I’ve been worried about the future of the newspaper industry for quite some time now.

I’m even more worried today.

After reading some of feedback from last week’s “Crisis Summit” sponsored by the American Press Institute, I’ve become even more convinced that the industry as we know it will die at the hands of its current leaders.

Some 50 newspaper executives gathered at API’s headquarters to discuss with corporate turnaround experts how to stop the sinking, but left the session “to reconvene in six months, and to explore additional collaboration.”

Explore collaboration? Isn’t this something several media experts have been expressing for years? And take six months to “explore?” How many more jobs and readers will the industry lose during this exploratory phase? How many newspapers publishers will stop their its presses because they can no longer afford to run them?

I’m glad API hosted such a summit. They’ve been very forward in trying to help newspapers redefine themselves through innovative programs such as Newspaper Next. But, they brought together the wrong people. Industry leadership, as evidenced by some of the reaction to Newspaper Next, have basically been a group of lemmings just waiting for someone to lead them to the water. Anyone can take the lead … just not them.

Come back in six months? Sure … maybe a few of us will still be around.

API didn’t need the executives in that room last week. They needed the folks who know better than to walk off the cliff, but have the experience and knowledge to find a path to a new business model. Guys like Steve Outing … Rob Curley … Howard Finberg. They recognize the disruptive forces that are adversely affecting the industry. Maybe locking them in a room with some corporate turnaround specialists, they can develop a model that an “alpha” dog of a newspaper publisher can test and modify into something that can save the industry.

I used to think change needed to come slowly to the industry, but a generation of neglect and indifference to a changing market and readership has put newspapers in the crisis its in now. The collapsing economy has only hastened the emergency.

We need more alpha dogs and fewer lemmings. Until that comes about, I’ll continue to lose sleep.

UPDATE 11/18 12:40 p.m.: Steve Outing Twittered my idea of locking him up with a few other “websperts” and corporate turnaround specialists. Not sure if he favored it, and in retrospect I think “locking up” may be a bit harsh (not to mention being locked up with corporate-suit-types may violate the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.) Thanks for the shout-out, Steve.

Outing’s blog today has a response from a participant of the API summit, who clarifies the six-month timeframe was not correct. Read it here.

It’s nice to know that the leaders there recognize the immediacy of finding solutions without waiting for someone else to do it. But it won’t affect my sleep patterns just yet.

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