A Kindle-like Solution For Newspapers? A Contrarian’s View

Newspapers still seem to have trouble squaring off with the Web. They don’t seem to understand that, for a new generation of readers, consuming news online when it breaks and where it can be continuously updated, linked and enhanced with multimedia is useful, convenient and relevent to how they live. Why would they want it any other way?

Owen Thomas, Gawker’s Valleywag blogger covering tech and the Web, argues as much in a post here. Thomas notes that newspapers seem to be all about the new Kindle, pinning their hopes in a new Kindle-like device specfically designed for newspapers.

Is this a bad idea? You bet, Thomas says:

What are the publishers really proposing? Taking a product available for free on the Web, dumbing it down, and then charging for it. News without links, comments, or video, in black and white, updated once a day? In an age when print media ought to be learning to do more with less, they are instead fixated on getting customers to pay more for less.

There is one prospective market for this: The old, who may be so attached to printed media that they will accept an electronic substitute. Hearst digital chieftain Phil Bronstein, the former San Francisco Chronicle editor, told Maureen Dowd that the industry’s best hope was that people would live longer, so those trained to read newspapers will stick to the habit.

The obvious converse of Bronstein’s feeble hope: The young will never learn to read newspapers and magazines again, having grown up reading online. Why would they switch to a product like the Kindle?

Exactly. Why would I buy a Kindle for newspapers when newspaper content online is so much more compelling and useful?

I agree with Thomas: “What newspapers and magazines need to do is obvious: Build appealing websites, and sell them better.”

But hey, I could be wrong. Is there a place in the new newspaper business model for a Kindle-esque device? Let me know in comments.

Media Notes: Pigs (Three Different Ones) & The End of Portfolio

Obvious? Yeah.

Obvious? Yeah.

An early update of media news from around the Internets:

Pigs on the WingHoward Kurtz on the fierce outbreak of swine flu coverage. The media, overreact? Maybe. If we’re all dead by next week? Maybe not!

Which of the Buggers to BlameIs Matt Drudge a hero? How Drudge drove (prefigured?) the media’s wild coverage of the swine flu.

You’ve Got to Be Crazy – Snoutbreak! The Daily Show mocks pig coverage.

Full of ValorThat’d be Max Brantley.

Giving Up – People continue to explore a “nonprofit” option for newspapers.

Closing Portfolio – If Conde Nast can’t launch a major glossy magazine these days, who among us can? New York Times on how the recession ended the magazine, and BusinessWeek weighs in here.

In the Tank – Is anyone really surprised by this?

Star Power – 40 journalists who took buyouts from the New Jersey Star-Ledger have banded together to start NewJerseyNewsroom.com.

Safe Bet? – Meanwhile, investors are betting that small market newspapers are where it’s at. Meanwhile, Warren Buffet knew it was over for major media waaay back in 1992, according to Slate.

A Commercial Appeal – The Memphis newspaper is tops among the latest circulation gainers. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on local circ numbers here.

Depressing Media Quote of the Week (And It’s Only Tuesday!)From an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Media Notes: Newspapers Want ‘Google Welfare,’ Buzz Gets ESPN Radio

Starting the week off right:

Above the Fold, Below Board: Newspaper giants meet with Google, demanding that their story links get better treatment in the search icon’s PageRank system. Special treatment? For newspapers? The hell you say!

Buzz Bin: Did an errant e-mail tip Buzz managers to KARN’s sports radio plans? Justin Acri ain’t talkin.’ But ESPN radio programming bows on the Buzz in early April.

News Wanted: What happens to a town when the local newspaper folds? Apathy! An uninformed populace! Radio hosts with nothing to talk about!

Mgmt: Nexstar Broadcasting, which owns TV stations in Arkansas including KARK in Little Rock and KNWA in Fayetteville, is taking over management duties for seven private-equity owned stations in Texas, Utah, Rhode Island and Florida.

Well Endowed: Equity firm chairman Warren Hellman and other San Francisco business people offer to help the ailing for-profit San Francisco Chronicle become an ailing nonprofit.

Static: A radio industry insider wonders just how long Citadel Broadcasting can keep this up.

Apocalypse Now: According to AdAge, things are bad all over!

Loaded Questions: The editor at the Memphis Commercial Appeal talks about the fallout from their own concealed-gun permit database kerfuffle.

Gawker to Newspapers: Do Less with Less

You could read the Financial Times’ 2,700-word analysis on what’s wrong with the U.S. newspaper industry and how it could be fixed, or you could read Gawker’s 187-word suggestion on how newspapers should confront their changing business, which makes just as much sense!

Here it is — a cogent, sincere response to this “doing more with less” mantra that will be the death blow to many more newspapers before all this over with:

Less is cheaper. Which gives the enterprise an actual chance of success, possibly! Instead of clinging to its old model unto death, a newspaper could ask itself: How much of this crap in our paper do we actually need? How many papers need a food section or a fashion section? None, really, if they don’t bring in ad money. The Seattle P-I is focusing on what it needs: Seattle news and commentarianism. Local papers could cut back to covering local governments, sports, and crime. The number of US papers that can truly justify publishing a book review, or a weekly magazine, or extensive movie coverage can be counted on fewer than one hand’s worth of fingers.

Oh, you like those sections? So do we. Unfortunately they cost too much so you can’t have them any more. Or you can, and they will bankrupt the paper, which spreads its dwindling editorial resources thinner and thinner until the entire product is just one big lump of suck. Which has already happened, in many places! So do less. Spend less. And stop lying about it.

Now is the time for newspapers to determine 1) what it is their audiences want from them, 2) what they cover exceptionally well, and 3) what they do just because that’s what they’ve always done.

Then they should concentrate on Nos. 1 and 2, and abandon No. 3.

Earlier

Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes online only

And

Nancy Pelosi goes to bat for the San Francisco Chronicle

Jeff Hankins, Kane Webb on Media Turmoil

Arkansas Business Publisher Jeff Hankins, writing in this week’s edition, discusses the media’s battle for ad revenue and a fractured audience in these dicey economic waters. But he begins with a disclaimer: When you keep hearing just how bad the nation’s economy is, consider the source:

The national media are enduring an economic crisis on multiple fronts. Their companies are bankrupt or struggling, their friends are being laid off, bloggers are stealing audiences, and in most cases, they are in the middle of a housing crisis. All this assumes they still have a job, and even then they are wondering if they will have one tomorrow.

So when the situation is that bad for the people who plan content and deliver the news, you can imagine the result.

The market forces that have been rocking the media landscape for the past year have finally made it to Arkansas, and the mood as dimmed accordingly. It’s tough to keep a clear head when the walls are falling down around you.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Perspectives Editor Kane Webb says as much in his Sunday column.

Webb takes a look around his Little Rock newsroom and sees empty chairs where some of his co-workers used to sit before being laid off. And there’s that 5 percent pay cut.

Of course, it could be worse:

It is lots worse in other places. As we were going through our little convulsion here in Arkansas, in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News was shuttering its newsroom for good. The San Francisco Chronicle may follow unless a buyer steps up-and who’ll step up in this economy?

It’s easy to get the blues. To sit at your desk and not see beyond the walls of the newsroom. Or the ad agency. Or the bank. Or . . . .

More from Hankins and Webb.

Democrat-Gazette Newsroom Takes Furloughs; Wehco Cuts Costs at All Newspapers

The Arkansas Times popped their note here about more cost-cutting measures at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Arkansas Business media writer Mark Hengel follows up with more here, including word that all of publisher Walter Hussman’s Wehco newspapers are trying to contain costs in some way or another as ad revenue dries up.

General Manager Paul Smith tells Hengel that each of the company’s newspaper departments were asked to find ways to cut costs. At the Democrat-Gazette, the newsroom chose furloughs, taking off one day every four weeks, thereby cutting wages by 5 percent:

“This keeps as many people on the job as possible,” [Deputy Editor Frank] Fellone said.

He said he does not expect the newspaper’s news coverage to shrink.

“I’m confident we can cover all the news we need to cover even if we need to throw a rookie like me out there,” he said.

This is the latest attempt by the newspaper to stop the slide. Last week, layoffs. Before that, a request for workers to voluntarily cut hours. Before that, a salary and wage freeze.

The D-G isn’t the only Arkansas newspaper facing tough times, of course. Stephens Media, owner of the daily Southwest Times Record at Fort Smith, the Pine Bluff Commercial and The Morning News at Springdale, as well as the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, suspended its 401(k) match program last month. And it previously laid off workers at its Washington D.C. bureau.

And furloughs are nothing new to Gannett Co. employees, including those at KTHV-TV, Channel 11, and the Baxter Bulletin.

Related

In the spirit of this dispiriting newspaper death watch, Real Clear Politics has listed 10 newspapers that are on the the bubble. Included on the list when it was released last week: the Rocky Mountain News, which indeed folded Friday. Others on the list, and their vitals:

Media Notes: DG Discontinues 401(k) Match, SF Chron on the Brink

Bad: After a round of layoffs, publisher Walter Hussman says the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will discontinue its 401(k) match program for employees. They were able to fully fund in 2008 however.*

Broken Hearts in San Francisco: Heart says it will sell or close the San Francisco Chronicle. Meanwhile, a Chronicle competitor is mum on whether he’d buy the paper.

Fewer Times: The New York Times cuts the frequency of its T fashion magazine.

Post Up: The Washington Post’s quarterly print advertising numbers are bad, but online ads are up, though growth is slowing.

The Dark Ages: Just what did people do on the Web in 1996?

It’s Ok If You’re Impressed: The Think Tank on the “strange resilience” of the local TV news personality.

Unkindest Cut: Newspaper and TV station owner Gannett cuts its dividend by 90 percent. Investors will make their opinions known today.

*Corrected from an earlier version, which had the item exactly backward!