Newspapers plot survival as quietly as they can

May 28, 2009

Newspapers are in the business of making information public so readers can benefit. Newspaper publishers are in the business of revealing as little as possible unless someone springs a leak.

In the case of the two-dozen newspaper publishers who met in the Chicago area to discuss ways to get people to pay for the news they read online, the leak landed in the hands of The Atlantic. Here is an excerpt:

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.” …

There was a dinner Wednesday and, according to the agenda, Thursday begins with a quick declaration of goals at 8 a.m., then an 8:10 a.m. session labeled, “Fair Syndication Consortium/Attributor.” …

That first session is followed by “Journalism Online: Presentation on proposed service to charge for access to newspaper content and to license that content that (sic) online aggregators” (the assistance of at least one of the many copy editors sent packing by the attendees might have been sought).

It’s now safe to wager that most attendees, who were scheduled to include Michael Golden of the New York Times, Gary Pruitt of McClatchy and Tom Curley of the Associated Press, will be dragged into charging for at least some online content.

In other words, the papers are trying to figure out how they can charge people for news on the Internet after largely giving it to them for the past 10-15 years. They have to do this so they don’t have to shut down when print advertising revenue gets so low that they can’t afford to stay in business anymore.

Many people say that newspapers have to come up with industry-wide ways to charge and to do a bunch of other things. The only problem with that is antitrust law. No one wants to be caught colluding — it breaks the law, after all. Not to worry: according to the Newspaper Association of America’s statement, antitrust lawyers were there.

From John F. Sturm, president and CEO, Newspaper Association of America:

Newspaper industry executives met in Chicago today under the auspices of the Newspaper Association of America to discuss how best to support and preserve the traditions of newsgathering that will serve the American public.

Following hearings in committees of both the House and Senate, the group discussed business topics such as protection of intellectual property rights and approaches to the Congress and Administration to address these and other issues.

With antitrust counsel present, the group listened to executives from companies representing various new models for obtaining value from newspaper content online. The participants also shared success stories in driving new revenue to their newspapers products.

Some publishers are arguing for Congress to approve an antitrust rule change that would let them get together to solve the problems that thwart them from delivering journalism these days. Whether such a change could ever happen is up in the air. Either way, it apparently never hurts to start talks on the early side.

(Photo: Reuters)


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Kindle is a nice device but expensive. Also, not many newspapers are available on it.

Posted by computer consultant | Report as abusive

I would not buy a Kindle, but if someone designed an electronic reader that was light weight (10ozs or less), durable (shock proof, water proof,solid state components, etc.) device that was foldable (like a laptop) and provided a dual viewing pane of 81/2″x11″, or slightly bigger to maybe legal size 8 1/2×14″), readable in direct sun or darkness, with wireless access to the WWW for subscription downloads, for under $400, I would buy one in a heartbeat.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Why not focus more on online advertising, this is rapidly becoming the number one revenue maker for many online businesses. Let them make money by promoting products and services related to their articles or let them monetize on their heavy traffic by using programs like Google adsense.

Posted by Nikkei 225 | Report as abusive

We have an infestation of an Ash beetle in the Twin Cities that could potentially destroy thousands of Ash trees. The story was broke by our local newspaper the StarTribune.

Bloggers didn’t break the story, but many commented on it after it broke.

And therein is the problem. Ash beetles are not an exciting topic, but they could cost the city and homeowners millions. Newspapers cover it because it is newsworthy.

I hate to have our democracy in the hands of ‘blogger dudes and dudettes’ more interested in Iraq or their local bistro.

Posted by Robert Crenshaw | Report as abusive

This is very troubling. As much as I feel sorry for the reporters at these newspapers I don’t believe that Congress should give any special rights or protections to newspapers.

In fact, if there is one group that could do more harm to the public good and to public policy it is the newspapers themselves.

I vehemently urge all American’s to write or call their Congressionmen and Senators to deny this group any sort of special antitrust exemptions..

Newspapers may be dying but news is alive and well.

Posted by Mike Mahoney | Report as abusive

[…] These guys were at O’Hare yesterday. I wonder if they had a lunch meeting at Chilis […]

Posted by Bubbly Creek: Grade inflation, elotes, seafood & the Chain O’ Lakes! | Chicago Public Radio Blog | Report as abusive


News is alive and well?

Who is going to cover the less glamorous issues if newspapers disappear. Bloggers? These self-indungent boobs sit at coffeehouses chatting about their mundance lives or how they hate the Iraq War.

Investigative reporting costs money. WHO IS GOING TO DO IT DUDE?

Posted by robert crenshaw | Report as abusive


The issue is who is going to cover the local stories that are important but not glamourous but important. You want to cover the local school board at night if you aren’t being paid?

Bloggers aren’t reporters. They comment on things while sipping their lattes.

Posted by robert crenshaw | Report as abusive

I think why not consider that subject of the news should have right to the news story rather than reporter or publisher of the news which impacts the subject more than paper itself. So moral of the story is that it will be hard to swallow especially for obama news {NY Times} to justify anything including charging for articles in the paper specially how they acted during last election cycle and beyond.

They will be better of asking for federal bailout or be bought by White house and run as official Paper like Pravda or as amtrack and USPS.

Posted by VJ | Report as abusive

I agree with the post above that online ads are the wave of the future for these companies. Newspapers are a dinosaur. The companies have you read what they want and the reporting is shady. Today’s generation doesn’t read newspapers. The baby boomers are what’s been keeping it going. If they charge for online content, the few customers they still have will only go to cable and satellite for their dose of journalism.

Posted by Lou | Report as abusive

This really sounds like too little, too late. Will there be any newspapers of quality left after the dust settles? I think they will all become supermarket tabloids. Fit for fishwrap and birdcage liner.

Posted by asiabytes | Report as abusive

The “foldable” Kindle is out there, called flexible circuitry. Price, juice and access details details….

Right price for paper Globe for example 2.99 month, and they pick up the old ones – that might allow them to charge me more.

Paper – good for the pet cages, nice to read while on the “throne”, a pain to pick-up and recycle. Great to clean windows + white vinegar, its the best.

Posted by Geoff | Report as abusive

What most newspapers should really acknowledge is that people are fed-up with their editorializing and bias. This has killed off more newspapers than any alternate technology ever could. Until that issue is corrected, no one will be interested in what they have to say, whether its on paper or not.

Posted by believe it | Report as abusive

i agree with ‘believe it’. because of the obvious bias at the new york times ,they have lost journalistic credibility with people like my self who are not radical leftists.i tend to group them with their hollywood soul mates who unfortunately think people take notice of them.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Newspapers still fail to understand the nature of the internet and, in doing so, have revealed their elitist attitude, not to mention their lack of business savvy.

Here’s a quick primer:
Information = Free (because that is what draws the audience)
Advertisement = Charge (that is the revenue source)

Trying to charge for subscriptions to online news is ludicrious– it’s like trying to charge for air. Go ahead and try. But most people will take the free air over the charged air everytime. Case in point, WSJ.

It makes much more sense to give the news for free and cash in on a newspapers reputation by charging for advertisement. Even if they just added an adsense ad, they would join the Fed-Ex club in no time.

The only real trouble is, the newspapers have been “double-dipping” (i.e., charging for both) for so long and now they have to suck it up like the rest of world. Elitist pigs, that’s what they are.

And, by the way, their level of writing has gone down as much, if
not more than, the rest of the world– enough, so that they can stop pretending to be better than anyone else. They aren’t.


Posted by Tracker Mo | Report as abusive