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The Long Slow Death of Newspapers

I’m part of a dying breed: I love to read the local paper each morning. I miss it when I’m on the road. USAToday is nice and all, but it’s just not the same as catching up on your local news. Sure, I could grab the entire paper off the Indy Star’s website, but a newspaper is one of those form factors that’s still not easily replicated online.

In his latest BusinessWeek MediaCentric column, Jon Fine talks about the ongoing battle the newspaper industry is fighting with a host of online businesses. From craigslist to Monster and HotJobs, it’s no surprise the daily papers are struggling.

The newspapers are looking for a way to partner with someone like Yahoo and start charging micro-payments for their stories. Good luck on that one! Anytime I see a news report online that requires a paid subscription my next move is to simply Google the headline or topic and jump to the first free version I can find. As long as free news exists the papers will have a very tough time monetizing their version of the stories.

Why does “free” news exist anyway? Because these news sites built their operations around a completely different business model, one where they’re not addicted to the advertising revenue from a print product. Free news isn’t going away, so the newspaper industry better just accept it and adjust. That, along with the fact that news is much fresher when it’s delivered online than in any sort of print format, means even more trouble for the newspaper industry.

So if you’re running a major newspaper somewhere, what should you do? First of all, one of your core assets is your brand along with your (hopefully!) respected reporting staff. How can you leverage this so that you don’t become even further marginalized in the world of news? I mentioned before that I think there’s an opportunity for the major papers to build a reliable blog directory. I don’t have the time to sift through all the blogs out there, but I’d gladly pay someone (via subscription) to do it for me, making recommendations, providing summaries, etc. Would I trust a team of newspaper reporters to do that for me? Absolutely.

How about extending this even further? Those free news sources aren’t going away, so why not help me keep track of which feeds are the best? Again, opinions, summaries, editorials, etc., of the countless news feeds, all customizable by me on your website would be a compelling product. Now you’re no longer writing the original reports as much as you’re acting as a filter and adding value with commentary. Think of it like a metadata service, where the free feeds are the source documents.

Partnering with Yahoo or another portal is interesting, but the major newspapers better start taking more significant steps to reinvent themselves (as noted above) or they’re liable to become nothing more than a quaint relic from the past.

P.S. – Jon Fine, your proofreader needs help! I was surprised to see not one but two ugly typos in your article. (See “At least one newspaper executive involved in the discussions says he nurses hopes that…” and “Should a deal get done, it would would be the…”) Both errors appeared in print and online.


Steve Clackson

This isn't exactly what you are referring to but its a good place to bookmark. Steve

Jenny Webb

I'm with you on this one, Joe. I love to read the newspaper (though I end up reading it at night). I realize I can get my news online (and I often do), but not so much the local story and those little tidbits of information that I need! AND, where else am I going to get to cut out my Sunday coupons???? Some may say the online sites such as But those places have so much spyware it isn't worth the grief.

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