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?

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