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February 26, 2009

And the meek shall inherit the pink slip...

February 26. Day 241.

They had it coming.

The Rocky Mountain News, which just announced it's printing its last edition Friday.

The Seattle PI, which is on Hearst's chopping block.

The San Diego Union Tribune, which is still for sale. A great blog by a friend who works there details the unraveling of his newsroom -- and the perseverance of people sticking it out, facing greater constraints than ever before to put out a paper every day...

They all had it coming -- every paper and mag shuttering its bureaus or laying off half its staff or worse.


Because they gave away something for free. Because they were too damn scared to ASK. Ask for what? Money from their readers, users, classified posters... Were they scared readers might defect? Stop clicking? Wouldn't hurt their bottom line much more than it is hurting now...

I heard a conversation yesterday on NPR's Marketplace with a professor named David Westphal. Here's how they end their chat:

RYSSDAL: What about different revenue models? There's been talk recently about endowment-supported newspapers. There's talk of micro-financing, in some degree. Do you buy any of those?

WESTPHAL: Well, I'm at a point where I'd like to see any idea float around because I think it's impossible to know . . . I do think philanthropy might well be involved. And if we think about a metropolitan area that has multiple news sources, not just one big one, a philanthropist might very well endow an investigative reporting operation, or endow a science reporting operation. But, again, I think it's smart at this point to put everything on the table.

The words "audience" and "readers" featured nowhere in his list of list of possibilities.

You're just getting his transcript here, but the tone was speculative, hopeful, and focused on abstractions.

Does that sound like a winning attitude?

Does having vague ideas solve anything?

Does that sound like an industry you'd want to invest in?


If there's one reason for the news industry's crisis, it's attitude. The rest are incidentals.

What if the publishers and decision-makers respected themselves and their product enough to charge for it, like any other industry out there -- would that cause readers to respect them, too? What if they treated the matter of paying for content as a matter-of-fact, a natural step, not some crazy and impertinent request? Wouldn't readers go for it, like they pay for anything else they consume?

I know, journalism is for the people -- it's democratic, it's the fourth estate, it's good to educate those who might not otherwise shell out for a subscription. Cry me a river. As long as it's not coming out of tax dollars, it's a private enterprise, i.e. a business.


And now, I'm off my soapbox. Back to asking. Back to my own life. But I had to say that.

What do you think? Would you pay for online content? Even 10 cents a day for a paper you love? Do you think this media mess is due, in part or totally, to the industry's failure or refusal to ask? Or am I the only reader out there who cares about this issue?


Since this blog isn't just about money -- and asking for access or experiences has led to some interesting encounters -- I jumped on an interesting opportunity tonight.

An acquaintance was heading to a union meeting, so I asked if I could tag along. I have never been to anything like that before in my life, so I was curious what it would be like. Maybe I'd get lucky and I could listen to some negotiation tactics.

It ended up being a bunch of people sitting at tables, talking about political power and electability. Then, people took turns giving short speeches, discussing things like retirement benefits, healthcare, contracts, dues.

No negotiation.

No collective bargaining.

No take-away points for this asker/negotiator/bargainer.

Ok, fine, so I got bored. Unless those contracts and bylaws apply to you, they are basically just a lot of words. Imagine sitting in one of my lit seminars if you could care less about Baudelaire. That sort of thing.

But it was worth a peek.

Gained: A glimpse of organized labor, in action.
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