Monday, February 2, 2009

Here's a thought: Newsroom (only) for sale

Everyone, it seems, has some ideas to help save the P-I, or journalism generally. The other day my mechanic was calling me about something else when he launched into his version of what we journalists need to do to stay a live. Summarized briefly (he likes us), he wants more of everything.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure there's a business model for that. In fact, recent events suggest there isn't. But his thinking actually isn't all that out of line with what a lot of us newsroom types have been thinking, promoting or just plain believing.

So it was interesting to note a post from Leonard Witt on Public Journalism Network, suggesting that we offer a newsroom for sale. His proposal involved The New York Times newsroom, not the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But the idea to sell it as a cooperative to investors could apply to just about any major newspaper. This seems like it might strike a note in Seattle, home of well-known cooperatives like REI and Puget Consumer's Coop. Anyway, Witt's plan would be to offer those who use newsrooms -- news junkies, I guess -- a chance to bail them out:
If everyone who subscribes to the New York Times paid $400 a year, just for it online, but also got shares into the cooperative, that would be $400 million a year. The Times newsroom costs about $200 million a year to operate. The extra $200 would go into an endowment, so in five years there would be a billion dollars, in ten years $2 billion. Enough that the subscription rate would go down for anyone who contributed for ten years. A ten year investment would be $4,000 or $2,000 less that what you pay for the newspaper now.

Of course, there's a problem with this logic. Anyone can already get The New York Times online free. Or the Seattle P-I, for that matter.

So the big question is, and Witt acknowledges as much, is would anyone pay to own a newsroom, even in a cooperative? Have we moved so far into this online world already that we've established "free" as the top price readers will pay for information?

Publish online or perish, a scenario more will face

The P-I's possible transition to an all-digital online-only version sparked a pretty good column by Editor & Publisher's Steve Outing last week.

Outing argues that the P-I isn't likely the only newspaper facing the 'online or perish' choice. He also suggests some one-newspaper towns could see the same kind of financial necessity dictating their brave new future -- or none at all. And he has some thoughts for who'll get jobs in that new world:

What will it take to get one of the remaining jobs in the all-digital newsroom? Certainly an understanding of, and probably enthusiasm for, new forms of media
and storytelling. The transformed newsroom will be filled with multi-functional
journalists who are comfortable carrying around a digital camera and tiny video
camera; who make it part of their routine to record audio for possible use in
podcasts or multimedia project sound clips; who are regular users of social
networks and understand how to leverage them to communicate with and attract new readers, and share some personal information about themselves as well as promote their work; and who are comfortable and willing to put in the time to engage and communicate with their readers or viewers, including participating in reader
comment threads accompanying their stories.

Check out his whole post. Click here. Kudos to P-I online producer Curt Milton for pointing this one out.