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« Saving Your Local Newspaper | Main | Economic Sanity On The Hill, To A Point »

Saving Your Local Newspaper - II

In a comment response to "Saving Your Local Newspaper," Mike Littwin makes some interesting points that deserve a reply.

Some reporters put themselves personally at physical risk all the time, of course. But that's very different from experimenting with things that have never been done before. In fact, they often seem more threatened than excited by innovation. From Dan Rather's reaction to being mercilessly fact-checked, hurricanes are easier than criticism. His and CBS's reactions were all too typical, and hardly courageous.

Editors and columnists and reporters love controversy under the old rules. It meant they were selling papers. They could print a few letters to the editor about how that so-and-so Littwin was a jerk, and satisfy their readers that they were having a real discussion. But that sort of controversy isn't risk, it's reward. For the New York Times, having its inability to get basic facts right mocked relentlessly, that's risk. And for some reason, they don't seem to embrace it.

As for paid competing with free, it works when your product is better or when you have a niche. I could read BusinessWeek or Forbes for free. Sometimes, I even do. But I pay to read the Wall Street Journal.

  • Ditch the print edition. Or sell it only in limited quantities at stores. Your product is news, not paper. Everything about that print edition costs you money. The Post has pretty serious financial problems, too, and you'll have divested yourselves of the biggest industry design flaw.
  • Produce two products. A 700-word article that people are used to reading and have time for, and longer pieces. Point out - repeatedly - what questions the Post's reporting raises but leaves unanswered, and then answer them. Do this every day. Newspapers don't sell themselves, you know. This won't make you or anyone else at the Rocky liked over at the Post.
  • Limit online advertising. It'll make your product more attractive. Part of Isaacson's idea is to have both advertising and subscription revenue streams. We all agree pop-up online ads are annoying. I might not subscribe to the WSJ if every article were preceded by an in-my-face pitch for a $2,000,000 foreclosure in the Hamptons.
  • Charge reasonably for the archives, and make sure everything, back to 1859, is in there. (College students will work for remarkably low wages.) I will almost never pay $2.95 for a three year old story. But if I'm already paying $50 a year, another nickel or dime doesn't seem like so much. Certainly cheaper than driving down to DU to use Lexis-Nexis on the library computer.

I don't want to see the paper die at the end of the month. I like the Rocky. One of the reasons the Post hasn't spun off into Star-Tribune levels of irresponsibility is the existence of the Rocky. I don't blame the Rocky for others' hare-brained ideas of government subsidies. It's all too easy to beat up on other people for not wanting to compete.

But whatever newspapers are doing isn't working, and this refusal even to try is an much symptomatic as it is causational.

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