Back in May, I wrote that newspapers need to befriend their enemies in order to survive. Basically, when news and information is your main product, you should be able to deliver what the customer wants, regardless of the source. If you deliver a product that has stories from, say, the New York Times, your readers won’t leave you for the NYT. In fact, they’ll appreciate that your product is giving them what they want without going to all these sites themselves. If you do this well enough, your readers will stay with you.

Call it the Google News effect.

I’m glad to see the Chicago Tribune is catching on. Mike Miner’s blog reports that the Trib’s morning e-mail blast, Daywatch, is beginning to link to stories in the Trib’s competition, the Sun-Times. Give Daywatch editor Charlie Myerson credit for “sweetening” the offerings, although the Trib’s innovation guy seems to take credit for it. But, nonetheless, this would never have happened under the old Tribune regime.

This will further the success of Daywatch, especially if they expand their offerings to suburban newspapers and business journals, such as Crain’s Chicago Business. The only concern at this point is that there is no plans to make it a premium for Tribune or subscribers.

It’d be a shame if a great innovation dies because a revenue model wasn’t considered for it.


Obi-Wan Kenobe summed it up best after the planet Alderaan was destroyed by the Death Star: “I feel a great disturbance in the force.”

That’s how I felt Friday upon hearing words of the latest rounds of buyouts to hit the industry. At the Chicago Tribune, the axe began to fall for 80 newsroom employees, including managing editor for news Hanke Gratteau, Washington bureau chief Michael Tackett and public editor Tim McNulty (who, ironically, was the first reporter in the Trib’s Beijing bureau and left on the opening day of the Beijing Olympics). Although these are high profile people leaving the paper, the cuts go much deeper, including a number of veteran reporters, editors and photographers (a list is at the end of this link), like Ed Sherman, Skip Mylinski, Charles Osgood, Maria Mooshil, Barbara Rose. These folks were writers, photographers and editors who also gave the Tribune a sense of personality, something it desperately lacked several years ago.

Then, on top of that, I learn that the Detroit Free Press’s Joe Grimm has also agreed to a buyout there. There are hundreds of young journalists out there that owe their jobs to Joe and the help he has provided over the years. A real believer in recruiting and coaching, his was in essence a pioneer for the development of minority recruiting and talent development.

That’s an awful lot of talent and institutional knowledge lost in one day. And while I can understand the economic needs for such action, I can’t help but wonder if newspapers will be better because of it.

There has been a great disturbance in the force. We can only hope it hasn’t irreparably damaged the institution.

UPDATE: Some pretty sobering numbers from Mark Potts and Erica Smith. Dark days indeed

About 30 years ago, the writers at National Lampoon produced a wonderful parody of the local Sunday newspaper. The paper, called the Dacron, Ohio Republican-Democrat, featured a main story about 2 Dacron women who were missing while taking a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Japan. At the end of a long, long story, the writer notes Japan was destroyed by a natural disaster.

That over-the-top local treatment was funny 30 years ago, but was NatLamp spot on for what newspapers will become in another 10 years?

I ask this after reading Tuskegee News publisher Paul Davis’ column “Community newspapers doing nicely” I don’t know Davis, but after reading this, I love him. I can just imagine him sitting at his desk in his storefront office across the street from the Coast to Coast store, typing away on his Underwood to get this out on time.

OK, a bit of an exaggeration. But he does make a point. We focus too much on the dire state of the newspaper industry, but we talk mainly of the major metros and the companies that owns hundreds of smaller newspapers. However, in the small towns throughout the country, many of these newspapers are indeed holding their own.

Now I admire Davis for taking the high road, that the mission to readers and advertisers remains intact. And there is a lot of truth to that. In a community where everyone knows everyone else, you don’t want to upset your customer base. But you can’t say the Philadelphia Inquirer or Minneapolis Post-Tribune doesn’t have that same mission, so what sets them apart from Paul Davis in Tuskegee?

Simple … Tuskegee owns its market. The majority of these community papers are the only source of local news and information. Folks in these towns are most likely finding out about the world from some other source, but if they need to find out about the fire down the street, or where they can get a deal on an oil change, they run to the News.

And local is where the majority of newspapers will need to go to survive. As technology continues to improve our ability to gather and read news from around the world, only a few media sources will shake out as the source for world and national news .. sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, ITN. That will force the metros to redefine themselves. The Tribunes, Heralds, and Newses will need to look at becoming the local source, which will be difficult because a number of good suburban newspapers and alt weeklies have been establishing that local market for years.

So small community papers are in the catbird seat, so to say. But I hope Paul Davis won’t sit back in his wooden desk chair and gloat. Small papers need to develop and adapt to new readers and their needs. In addition to improving websites, they need to create local databases that will provide readers with instant information. They need to create online communities to spark and maintain debate and dialog.

I recently had an e-mail exchange with the publisher of a small Michigan paper who was nice enough to show me his redesigned newsroom flowchart. I was impressed because it addressed the same issues that the metros are facing, but it was targeted to address his community. Here’s someone who’s looking ahead … and working to own his community.

The mission doesn’t change. It’s how we accomplish that mission does.

Now here’s a positive turn…Chris O’Brien lists 5 ways to foster innovation in the newsroom. These are not original ideas, but here’s someone offering an idea (or 5) to make newspapers and journalism better and stronger for the future. A nice relief from the whining I mentioned earlier.

The key in O’Brien’s piece is that newspapers must dedicate a number of staff to innovation — not just for the present, but also the future. Innovation must be ongoing. Change is inevitable. The business community has recognized it for much longer than we have.

We constantly editorialize for change, but as a business we are the most reluctant to do so. Unfortunately, most newspapers today are so focused on trying to plug holes in the profit dike that they are neglecting to fix it … and make it stronger. If Microsoft operated like newspapers, I’d still be using Windows 3.1 to put this blog out, and Bill Gates would have his staff focused on fixing all the bugs still in it.

Yes, it’s going to hurt. And, yes, some journalistic integrity may be lost in the transition, but until we as an industry focus some of our effort into research and development, we are destined to die.

And frankly, it’ll be our own fault.

I recently chided Howard Owens for being rather “curmudgeonly” for stepping away from his blog and going to Twitter. But after reading Winston Wood’s essay in CJR and blogger William Lobdell’s 42 things I know, I’m beginning to see what Howard is talking about.

When did we turn into … as Sam Axe would say … “a bunch of bitchy little women?”

Wood and Lobdell make good points. The newspaper business model is broken. Thanks, but I’ve read that in hundreds of blogs … including my own … for at least the past two years. Does anybody have anything new to add to that? I think not.

A good number of journalists are leaving the profession. They’re leaving angry, bitter and disillusioned. I don’t blame them. I’m still a working journalist and I’m angry, bitter and disillusioned.

But instead of crying that “the model is broken,” why aren’t more of us looking at building a new model? Why aren’t we being more aggressive in finding a way to preserve the integrity of journalism, while realizing we also need to make money?

So here’s my challenge to all media bloggers, including the newcomers. let’s stop saying:
1. The newspaper business model is broken.
2. The Internet has zapped newspapers of its main revenue sources

Let’s realize:
1. People still want news, now more so than ever.
2. Great journalism is not dying, but it needs a makeover.
3. Editorial people cannot expect advertising to pick up the tab any more. Editorial needs to figure out a way to pay its own way.

And let’s work together to figure out:
1. How to continue great storytelling that meets our readers needs
2. How to turn the ivory tower business model into the “traffic cop” business model
3. How we can turn a profit on all of this.

Enough of the whining. We must stop throwing stones at the broken model. We must be a part of the solution.