Sunday, October 5, 2008

Advice for Reconstructing the American Big-City Newspaper

Reconstructing the American metro newspaper won't be easy, pretty or painless, but the alternative is far, far worse.

- Dave Morgan, blogger partner in The Tennis Company, which owns, and TENNIS and SMASH Magazines

In Dave Morgan, "Reconstructing The American Metro Newspaper," Media Daily News, October 2, 2008

Morgan, a serial web entrepreneur (he founded Tacoda and Real 24/7) who also worked in the newspaper industry, suggests that the "big city" American newspaper firm must confront its precarious situation in the new media environment and take drastic steps to keep its product viable. Here are some of his main points:

* "Newspaper companies and their management teams have to recognize that their problems -- falling circulation and readership, plummeting ad revenues, disappearing classifieds, and exploding fixed cost structures that won't go away -- are secular, not cyclical."

* Newspapers have enjoyed monopolies in their areas for decades that have allowed them to control production (including owning the printing machines and sometimes the trees for paper) and distribution (including the trucks). Such vertical integration no longer makes sense. "Their survival requires that they ... give up control over a number of parts of their businesses and underlying capital structures." They should, for example, contract out printing activities.

* Produce printed newspapers with fewer pages, more local news, and news that is targeted to those receiving it. "General news products won't be delivered every day, but will avoid days when there is little ad support, like Mondays and Tuesdays."

* With far fewer resources than they had in the past, newspapers should fundamentally change the nature and size of the newsroom. Focus on "a few critical areas of reporting like local news, government and community events, and put the vast majority of their focus on providing and promoting a platform for their readers to report and comment about the issues they care about."

* Local papers should not be covering national and international news but focusing on their areas. This tack opens the door to partnerships with national newspapers such as The New York Times "A national newspaper like The New York Times needs much more print circulation and readership, or it will never reach the critical mass that advertisers require to really make a long-term go of it with their print product."

Some newspapers are already pursuing a few of these approaches. If all of them are followed, it certainly augurs a transformed newspaper industry some decades from now.

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