Friday, March 24, 2006
Four tips from InstaPundit for the newspaper business
Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who's moderately
conservative political blog, "InstaPundit.com" has written a short column
of advice to newspapers about how to survice. His key points:
1. Stop using paper to produce the product -- information
2. Hire more reporters with the money saved
3. Stop insulting readers
4. Get readers more involved in the process
Here's the full essay. The original URL:
By Glenn Harlan Reynolds : BIO| 22 Mar 2006
(Glenn Reynolds' writes the blog: InstaPundit.com)
Moody's is looking at downgrading the New York Times' credit rating. The
Times' stock is doing badly. And other newspapers are in trouble, too --
the staff of the San Jose Mercury News has resorted to launching a "save
our paper" website.
These certainly look like dark days for the newspaper industry generally.
ABC's Michael Malone writes:
It was just a year ago that I predicted -- to considerable consternation
and censure from the press -- that most major newspapers would be dead or
dying by the end of this decade. Apparently, I was being conservative.
As I look around California, for example, I see the San Francisco
Chronicle turning into the Daily Worker for baby boomers, the Los Angeles
Times selecting stories based on political considerations, and now, the
only real newspaper of any size left, the Mercury News, apparently
orphaned. Meanwhile, McClatchy's strategy appears to be that of snatching
up small-town papers, the last redoubt of daily print journalism. But that
is just buying time before Yahoo and Google start putting local Little
League box scores online.
Of course, Malone warns new media darlings, like MySpace, that they're
likely to be next, victims of changing technology and fickle tastes on the
part of a public that -- as it didn't in the halcyon days of the newspaper
business -- has lots of choices.
Unlike, I suppose, a few bloggers I'm not cheering the demise of
newspapers. I do think that the newspaper industry has dug its own grave
through bias, disrespect for its audience, and simpleminded costcutting
efforts that have seriously damaged its core competency (and killer app)
-- actual gathering and reporting of truthful, accurate, hard news. But I
don't think it's too late for imaginative newspapers to save themselves.
What would a new-era newspaper look like?
First, I think I'd skip the "paper" part. I've visited a lot of newspaper
offices, and many of them proudly display the printing presses that
produce their product, just as older newsmen often glory in the title of
"ink-stained wretch." But their product isn't paper (in fact, for those of
us who recycle, the paper is a drawback, not a plus, at least until it's
time to pack things for a move). Their product is information. Paper is
just an increasingly obsolete delivery platform. It's expensive, and on
the way out. Get rid of it, or start a new "paper" without it.
Second, I'd put some of the money I saved by abandoning delivery trucks,
printing presses, and the like into hiring reporters and writers, who have
been the object of a lot of cost-cutting over the past couple of decades.
And I'd expect a broader range of competency: My reporters would also all
be photographers, equipped with digital cameras, and videographers,
shooting clips of video that could be placed on the website along with
their stories. This isn't asking too much, really. The world is full of
people who can write and take pictures. I've heard editors at existing
newspapers who doubt that their reporters could do this sort of thing, but
if so, they need better reporters. I'd tell them to learn, or seek
employment elsewhere. It's not that hard. This sort of approach might
create union problems, which often forbid reporters from doing the job of
photographers or vice versa; I'd tell the unions to go visit the Buggy
Whip Museum and ponder the fate of work rules in that industry. (See
examples of what I'm talking about in the video department here and --
from my local newspaper, complete with commercials -- here).
Third, I'd stop insulting readers. As Malone notes, many newspapers lean
left; they're out of touch, as numerous surveys demonstrate, with the
attitudes of most Americans. Often, like George Clooney (spokesman for
another declining industry), they celebrate this disconnect. They
shouldn't. People don't like being preached to, or manipulated, and they
are increasingly unwilling to pay for that now that they have
alternatives. So stop; give them the news, with as little bias as
Fourth, I'd get readers involved. I'd incorporate readers and bloggers
into the reporting, fact-checking, and revision of news stories. I'd be
generous about handing out credit, too -- people will do a lot for a
little bit of ego gratification. With digital cameras, cameraphones, etc.,
all over, there's usually somebody on the scene when something happens.
I'd take advantage of that. I'd also take advantage of readers with
special expertise in particular areas -- in fact, I'd build a roster of
those people and use them as color commentators on stories in their areas.
If union rules interfered, well, see above.
The bottom line is that there's plenty of market space for the news
business, so long as it sticks to its core competencies of actually, you
know, reporting news accurately and well. But the Daily Planet model of
newspapers -- or, worse yet, the model shown in today's New York Times or
San Francisco Chronicle, places where behavior that Perry White would
never have tolerated is, sadly, routine -- is on its last legs. There's no
reason that newspapers can't remain competitive -- no reason, at least,
outside their own management.
Glenn Reynolds is TCS Contributing Editor and author of An Army of Davids.
Contributing Editor, TCS
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is contributing editor of TCS where his special
feature on technology and public policy called "Reynolds' Wrap" appears
each week. He is a law professor at the University of Tennessee.
His special interests are law and technology and constitutional law
issues, and his work has appeared in a wide variety of publications,
including numerous law reviews, the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology,
Law and Policy in International Business, Jurimetrics, and the High
Technology Law Journal. Professor Reynolds has also written in the New
York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall
Street Journal, among others. He is the co-author of Outer Space: Problems
of Law and Policy. He created and writes for the influential Instapundit
Reynolds' most most recent book is called The Appearance of Impropriety:
How the Ethics Wars Have Undermined American Government, Business and
Society, (The Free Press, 1997) coauthored with Peter W. Morgan.