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Posted by: Jon Fine on December 29, 2005
It’s almost always a mistake when a columnist—that is, someone who types opinions for a living—dares to get into prescriptives for running a business.
Nevertheless: This week’s column contains prescriptives for what moves might help save the daily newspaper, and how it may be reinvented for this century.
It’s true that, on a certain level, the American daily newspaper doesn’t need saving. Virtually all of them are still bang-up businesses that spew torrents of cash; most newspaper companies post profit margins almost any other business would cut off a finger to achieve. But it’s the future that people are worried about, and there’s a litany of negative trends making themselves apparent. Some leading indicators are plainly worrisome. The first cities in the US that the free daily Metro chain appeared in? Boston and Philadelphia. Coincidentally or not, the papers in those cities are tanking worse than they have in the past, and worse than comparable cities.
I’ve weighed in. (So have others, like the ubiquitous Jeff Jarvis via his “new news” posts.) Will you?
1. Assume there will be a paper product we know as the daily paper for the near future and scale your suggestions accordingly—or explain why the paper product will disappear very quickly.
2. In the real world, changing ways at some newspapers require grappling with complex union issues. For the purposes of your brainstorming, don’t get hung up on this point.
3. For reasons of space and focus, I didn’t touch on seriously squeezing production and distribution costs, which any rethinking of the newspaper will have to address. Any smart thoughts on how to slash either are greatly welcomed.
4. As my column shows, I’m not kneejerk about the sanctity of newsroom jobs. If you’re planning to slam any suggestion newsrooms might need to be smaller, think carefully about how you justify it in business and revenue terms.
5. Think big. And have fun.
The media, entertainment and marketing worlds continue to shapeshift on a near-daily basis, as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. Where is it all going? No one really knows. But on this blog BusinessWeek’s media writers Tom Lowry and Ron Grover promise to provide ample helpings of scoop, provocation, and sharp analysis as they track and annotate this constantly changing terrain.