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Business model? What business model?

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Here’s three thoughts for the corporate types who own and operate newspaper chains to consider.

From Joe Strupp of E&P who summarizes the recent rounds of newspaper staff reductions:

If fewer people are buying a product — whether it’s a newspaper or a can of soup — how does decreasing the quality of that product make it sell better? Newspapers cannot cover news better with fewer people. … understand that we are in tough times in this business and cost-cutting is needed. But systematically dismantling your newsrooms so drastically is foolish.

Now from Brian Lambert’s story in the Rake about newspapers’ identity crisis. He quotes former Minneapolis Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire:

There’s lots of planning going on in newsrooms,” said McGuire. (The post-McGuire Star Tribune will unveil its latest, long-planned makeover sometime in the coming weeks.) “But most of the orders to find solutions to the industry’s deepest problems come with one instruction: Don’t spend significant money. I know several editors who have been told to research some radical new solutions, but then told to do it on the cheap. Publishers want to restore excitement to newspapers without spending a precious dime of that twenty-one to thirty-five percent profit margin. [It] won’t happen.” McGuire added, “When your franchise is under attack from every angle and you are obsessed with inexpensive, incremental solutions, then you are guilty of harvesting, milking, or negligence.” (emphasis added)

And from Richard Reeves, who observed everyone on his subway car was reading a free paper:

The free newspapers are thriving all over the country now. That is because 80 percent of newspaper revenues come from advertising. And because overall circulation is in decline, there is obvious logic in getting more readers by charging less money. The strategy ends at and has reached the lowest price, nothing. That is the future, I think, and ironically, I also think that the free papers will become better and better in their news content, analysis and advocacy. Even when all the prices are zero — there will be elite exceptions like the Times and The Wall Street Journal — the people who will be the new market will figure out which products are better.

Methinks the people at the top — the ones with levers to pull that could change the face of journalism in a positive, productive way — do not understand journalism. And there’s growing evidence that they don’t really have a valid business model for the newspapers they own, either.



Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 26, 2005 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. business is killing community journalism
    Hey Dr. Denny–
    I took three of my students apple picking within my old circulation area. We stopped in Albion so they could see the Erie Canal and I could duck into “my” old newsstand for the papers and to see familiar faces.
    What pissed me off, though, is my news office is gone. The Albion Advertiser in no longer in Albion. However, *insert hissing sound* the Batavia Daily News, the main competitor for the Medina Journal-Register and my old weekly, the Advertiser, has set up a nice shop across the street from where my office was.
    I told corporate and the head of the cluster six, almost seven years ago we were in trouble, that Batavia was seeking a foothold in Orleans. “Never happen,” they told me. “Besides, no one will buy their paper anyay.”
    No additional staff, no assistance, never listened to a single word I said about changing format and name and you name it. I didn’t even have a proofing printer — the one that was “ordered” for my office was “dropped” on the floor and had to be sent back. All I wanted was a $50 printer from Wal-Mart to proof my copy. Never got it. Meanwhile, people are joyfully telling me how wonderful the Daily News is and that they’ve canceled their subscriptions to the J-R and the Advertiser.
    The investment in the Advertiser would have improved the paper and made it was it had been and was supposed to me — but like you said, they want wonders without spending an extra dime. They want trained professonials to do what I was doing — writing, editing, layout, even some advertising along with positive community representation — but are unwilling to do the basics of good business. And then — then — they act surprised when circulation drops.
    So, anyway, the Albion Advertiser was driven out of its own village by the Batavia Daily News with lots o’ help from its own cluster.
    The gods of journalism must weep, sometimes.


    September 26, 2005 at 10:53 pm

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