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White House: Obama Will Return To Gulf Tomorrow

Here's the White House statement:

"On Friday, June 4, President Barack Obama will return to the Louisiana Gulf Coast to assess the latest efforts to counter the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. More details will be released later today."

Readers Take NPR, PBS Out with the Tide

Have you ever stood at the ocean's edge, where the waves nip the beach?

As you stand there and look out to sea, the cool water rushes around your ankles and nudges you toward shore. As the water trundles back out, it tugs at you to follow.

Most likely the first couple of times this happens, you feel a bit unsteady and unsure of yourself.

After a few minutes of this tug of war, however, you look down to find your feet have settled deep into the sand. The ocean's ebb and flow has actually anchored you down and made you feel more secure about your footing.

I guess I've always felt the same way about good journalism. You need both sides to prop up the middle. Otherwise, you are ripe for a fall.

Last week in this spot I wondered why "truly non-partisan media outlets like NPR or PBS or most local newspapers were not among the choices" in a half-baked poll conducted by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair that asked, "Which of the following do you consider to be the most trustworthy source of daily news in the United States?"

Out went my opinion, and in came the water ...

Continue reading "Readers Take NPR, PBS Out with the Tide" »

This Poll Just the Latest Sickness Going Around

I ingested something called The 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last night and awoke this morning with a splitting headache, and a bad taste in my mouth.

I know what you are thinking, I get what I deserve, and should know better than to dive into something like that before bed.

I suppose I have as much trouble laying off the junk food as the next guy, though.

Anyway, here's the reason I am typing with a sour stomach today:

In the latest attempt to figure out what the news-consumer in the land of plenty is thinking these days, this media odd couple asked a random sampling of 1,026 adults nationwide the following question:

"Which of the following do you consider to be the most trustworthy source of daily news in the United States?"

Continue reading "This Poll Just the Latest Sickness Going Around" »

All Eyes and Ears Were on Health Care

Turn away quickly, put your earmuffs on, or pick up a drumstick and join in as I bang away at the media's coverage of the health care debate just one more time ...

The Pew Research Center's Project For Excellence In Journalism is out with its numbers on what stories carried the news agenda the week of March 15-21, and by a whopping margin health care reform led the way.

I see this as good news, because it is one of the biggest issues of our time, and deserved the ample attention it got from the media.

Here's how Pew reported it:

Last minute deal-making, vote counting and suspense over a package of measures approved Sunday by the House of Representatives consumed 37% of the newshole during the week of March 15-21, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That topped the previous high of 32%, which occurred twice before: during the week of August 10-16, when tempers were flaring at town hall meetings, and from September 7-13, when President Obama addressed the issue in speech before a joint session of Congress that was marred by heckling.

Continue reading "All Eyes and Ears Were on Health Care" »

Rounding Up All The Likely Suspects

We'll finish up the week by updating some old news and musings that have appeared in the past on the Media Watch blotter...

To Catch a Thief

According to this story I am plucking from the The Huffington Post, writer Gerald Posner's plagiarism crime spree has bled into his latest book.

Posner, who packed up his copier last month and scurried from the The Daily Beast amid plagiarism allegations and convictions, now is admitting to lifting copy that appears under his name in the book, "Miami Babylon."

According to the story, Posner recently told the Associated Press that he is blaming his latest bout of stealing on a 'flawed research methodology.'

He is then quoted as saying:

"If you use something from another book, a statement from another book, it needs to be in quotations, or if you take something and put it in your own syntax and grammar, you still need to cite it."

Continue reading "Rounding Up All The Likely Suspects" »

Another Pew Report: Meet the Depressed

I feel both guilty and bound by an odd sense of responsibility to tip you to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism "The State of The News Media" report for 2010, which is online today.

If the title alone hasn't scared you away yet, you should know that this beast weighs in at close to 180,000 words. I figure that by the time I am done reading it, three or so mid-size newspapers someplace in Southeast will have crashed.

And, yes, that is an admission that I have not gotten through the whole thing, though I have read more than 1 percent of it. I'm not sure how much more I can take.

In fact, when I get done typing this I plan to go back to bed and call in sick to one of my previous bosses, just so I can remember what it felt like to be gainfully employed as a journalist, and making a few bucks while questioning power.

Look, basically, if for some reason you still call yourself a journalist, my question is, why?

The news is every bit as bad as you thought it was. OK, it's worse, actually.

Continue reading "Another Pew Report: Meet the Depressed" »

Laughs, Kisses and Wonderment

We'll close up a week that pretty much began and ended with the oddball Eric Massa, by firing randomly in a few different directions across the media spectrum...

A Kiss is Just a Kiss?

Hardly, especially if you are the Washington Post's ombudsman.

Andrew Alexander has been busy this week dealing with readers about a front-page piece of art in the March 4 edition of the paper that showed two men locking lips. The photo was snapped outside a courthouse, and on the day D.C. started taking license applications for same-sex marriages.

It's a provocative photo, no doubt, and Alexander and the paper initially got a lot of negative feedback from readers -- many of whom threatened to cancel their subscriptions.

Yesterday, however, Alexander saw the need to post another offering titled, "Two men kissing Part 2: The counterattack."

Continue reading "Laughs, Kisses and Wonderment" »

What Kind of News Consumer are You?

What you do with, and how you are accessing, today's Media Watch offering, says a lot about you as a consumer of news and information in 2010.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism is at it again, and has released a comprehensive study dated March 1, 2010, and headlined, "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer."

Subhead: "How Internet and Cell Phone Users Have Turned News Into a Social Experience."
You will find the study here.

This report is based on findings accrued between Dec.28, 2009, and January 19, 2010, and after speaking over the telephone with 2,259 adults age 18 or older who went though the survey satisfactorily and in its entirety.

This study not only gets into where you get your news, what kind of news you are after, and how you get that news, but what you might do with that news once you get it.

Continue reading "What Kind of News Consumer are You?" »

Obiturary of Journalism

This story, in a nutshell, tells all you need to know about the sad state of journalism.

A little more than a month ago, immediately upon the death of French composer Maurice Jarre, an Irish college student inserted a phony quote in the Jarre entry in Wikipedia. Shane Fitzgerald wanted to see if he could fool the vaunted open-source encyclopedia.

Wikipedia caught on pretty quickly, but the media fell for the hoax and swallowed it whole.

"One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear."

This fake quote appeared in a number of English-language publications worldwide. And until last Monday, when Fitzgerald came forward to reveal his "experiment," the quote was going down in history as fact.

Talk about putting words in a dead man's mouth.

The Guardian, so far, is the only paper that has acknowledged that it fell for the hoax. Others have quietly deleted the offending quote in their online archives. Wikipedia, on the other hand, caught the unsourced quote quickly and removed it twice - but not quick enough for the obit writers to pilfer it off the site.

That this outrage could happen is but an illustration of the sad state of the modern media. Its taste for instant dissemination is sometimes irreconcilable with the need for accuracy. Particularly in an age of severe newsroom cuts when skeletal crews are often overwhelmed by their workload, this shouldn't be surprising.

There was a time when obituaries were finely tuned, painstakingly researched work of art (not fiction). As such, I want to present you the best obit you've never read.

More than a decade ago, Ed Beitiks was tasked to write an obituary on Kurt Vonnegut, who was neither in ill health nor all that old at the time. But it was an old newspaper practice to have obits "in the can" just so the paper wouldn't be caught out when somebody really do drop dead on deadline.

The thing is, Vonnegut ended up outliving Ed, who was a prince of a man and a masterful storyteller. A Vietnam vet who fought brain cancer (from exposure to Agent Orange and war wounds) for the better part of a decade, Beitiks wrote the obit for the old San Francisco Examiner before he passed away in 2001. His Vonnegut obit never ran because ol' Ed hated the rival Chronicle, which would later merge with the Ex after being purchased by the Hearst Corporation. Ed never wanted his byline to appear in the Chron and his editors honored his wish.

Nevertheless, when Vonnegut died six years after Ed's own passing, his obit was resurrected by editor Allen Johnson (an Indiana native, a huge Vonnegut fan, Ed's friend and the best man at my wedding). It appeared in Chuck Nevius' blog in its entirety, but never ran in the Chronicle.

Ed didn't have the benefit of Wikipedia. He didn't need it.

Google Bites Back, But Gently

Talk about awkward.

One day after AP Chairman Dean Singleton kicked up a maelstrom, threatening a war between newspapers and aggregators, alluding to but without naming Google, Eric Schmidt had to address this same "mad as hell" crowd at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) convention in San Diego.

In his keynote speech, the Google CEO claimed he was "confused" by the brouhaha, and pointedly mentioned his company's multimillion dollar deal to host and use AP's content. But more critically, he echoed the thinking by anyone who's seen the handwriting on the wall - blow up the obsolete business model:

"It's obvious to me that the majority of the circulation of a newspaper should be online, rather than printed. There should be five times, 10 times more circulation because there's no distribution cost. It doesn't cost anything to read it online from an end user perspective.

"I would start with -- My diagnosis is: how do we get to 10 times more readers online? What do they want to see? What is their style? My own bias, by the way, is a technology one: I think the sites are slow. They literally are not fast. They're actually slower than reading the paper, and that's something that can be worked on on a technical basis."

(His entire speech may be heard here)

Schmidt's other suggestions included - don't "piss off" the readers, think of the next act and still look to advertising as the primary revenue source.

While Schmidt was busy making nice with the NAA, his charges up north in Mountain View wasted little time in defending Google's legal position against the AP's challenge over fair use. But one media critic really took the gloves off.

Jeff Jarvis, a former New York Daily News Sunday editor who now considers himself more of a blogger, wrote a scathing commentary on his blog BuzzMachine, excoriating the newspaper business. The point in "The Speech the NAA Should Hear"? You blew it:

The public should be angry with you for the poor stewardship you have exercised over the press and its service to society. Your journalists are angry at you for losing their jobs. Your pressmen and drivers and classified-ad takers are angry at you for the same reason (and at the journalists for paying attention only to their own plight). Your advertisers were angry at you for using your monopolistic power to overcharge them and for providing inefficient platforms and bad service for so long. But they're not angry anymore because they left you for better advertising vehicles and better prices in a competitive marketplace.

But you're the ones who are acting angry.

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you? Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you're getting your wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish for. You'd lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one) and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you'd lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4 of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link economy - instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate - Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won't, because you've refused to understand this new business reality.

You blew it.

AP Readies for War with Aggregators

At the Associated Press annual meeting, a new battle cry was sounded for the woebegone newspaper industry:

"We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!"

That came from William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews and AP chairman during his keynote speech in San Diego. Singleton made it clear that the AP, a cooperative formed primarily by U.S. newspapers, will vigorously protect its content and demand revenue-sharing from web portals where it sees fit:

"(We will) work with portals and other partners who legally license our content ... and seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don't. We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories."

Neither Singleton nor anyone at the AP named their potential adversaries, but it's reasonable to surmise that their potential targets may range from Internet behemoths Google and Yahoo to news aggregators such as the Huffington Post. One of the contentious issues involves the use of excerpts; the other, on the portals' use of snippets of newspaper articles to generate ad revenue.

Google was quick to respond to this potential challenge, saying that any confrontation over fair use would be misguided.

"We believe search engines are of real benefit to newspapers, driving valuable traffic to their Web sites and connecting them with new readers around the world," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told the New York Times. "We believe that both Google Web Search and Google News are fully consistent with copyright law -- we simply link users to the site at which the news story appears."

Singleton was light on details as to how the AP plans to pursue what he termed "new rules of engagement." But he insisted that print media isn't dead, it just needs to do better - particularly by protecting its most valuable assets - in order to maximize its earning potential:

"I think our industry has been very timid about protecting our content, probably because we've done so well in the past few years that we didn't recognize that misappropriation is as serious an issue as it is. As we're now relooking at business models, it's become clear that we must protect the rights of our content.

We perhaps have been timid about enforcing [those rights]. No more. We own the content but we've let those who spend very little, if any, get the most advantage from it. (But) I am very confident that we will develop new models that help us get more."

The Sorry State of the Media

Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism released its annual "State of the Media" report for 2009 today. In it, of course there's much gloom and doom for an industry that's had a difficult year, particularly newspapers and magazines, which were the hardest hit by the recession.

One sector that's not only escaped the financial downturn unscathed but also managed some growth is cable television. Audience for cable was up 38% in 2008 than from the previous year and the industry, with a model based on both subscriber fee and advertising, is proving to be highly profitable.

On the other hand, local television news is getting hammered as much as newspapers and magazines are. In an election and Olympic year, when advertising revenues and audience typically spike, there was actually a 7% and 4.5% decline, respectively.

And everywhere else, it's bad news, including for online media, where advertising growth has come to a screeching halt. Advertising revenue is down for every part of the media industry, except cable TV. The worst hit is the newspaper business, where ad revenue declined by over 10% in 2008.

The gloom-and-doom report summed everything up with the pronouncement that there is no magic bullet to cure all that's ailing the media. Time magazine's M.J. Stephey summarizes it as such: "(I)f the solutions aren't obvious, the report's overall message is: Will the future leaders of journalism please, please stand up?"

Click here if you want to print out the entire report.

Whither J-School?

About a week ago, a friend - a sportswriter at the L.A. Times - was going to give a talk at a Southern California journalism school. He was seeking advice.

Most of us just told him, "tell them to get out while they still can," and that wasn't meant as a joke. Given the state of the media industry, particularly print publications, one must be borderline insane to be seeking a career in newspapers or magazines these days.

But the world still needs journalists. And since journalism schools are still in business, they must find ways to attract new students to justify their raison d'etre. Many of them started developing programs to train young journalists in the concept of "New Media," including Columbia, one of the more prestigious J-schools.

Shockingly, such an obvious sign-of-the-times maneuver has met fierce resistance:

But the push for modernization has also raised the ire of some professors, particularly those closely tied to Columbia's crown jewel, RW1. "F*** new media," the coordinator of the RW1 program, Ari Goldman, said to his RW1 students on their first day of class, according to one student. Goldman, a former Times reporter and sixteen-year veteran RW1 professor, described new-media training as "playing with toys," according to another student, and characterized the digital movement as "an experimentation in gadgetry."
(Emphasis mine, expletive redacted)

Quite a whopper, isn't it? This New York Magazine piece went on to describe part of Columbia's challenge is that "many of the tenured professors haven't worked in new media themselves, their classes require the addition of tech-savvy adjuncts. ... The school has been trying to do away with this added expense by training the professors themselves, but this takes time Columbia doesn't necessarily have, given the rapid implosion of the industry it serves."

Let's face it, journalism is a trade, not an academic pursuit. J-schools are meant to allow students to acquire a particular skill-set in order to get jobs. In fact, any J-school worth its salt today should provide students courses in the business of journalism to better equip them to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

Martin Nisenholtz, head of New York Times' digital operations, offers just such sage advice:

I also think it's a good idea for journalists to have a basic understanding of business; after all, journalism is a business in the United States and journalists should understand the basics of the businesses they work for. Regarding entrepreneurial skills, the best way to learn them is to work in a startup or early-stage business. Talk to accomplished venture capitalists. Read some of the better venture capitalist blogs. Dive in.

Most of all, don't Eff the new media. That might be the only media left in the near future.

Hearst Makes Demands on Chronicle

As predicted here at Media Watch, after warning that the San Francisco Chronicle might fold, the parent Hearst Corporation made demands on the newspaper guild and other unions for drastic concessions to keep the paper operating. Management and labor likely will have the next 2-3 weeks to work out the givebacks or the paper could be shuttered by the end of the first quarter.

Media Watch has obtained the memo sent to guild members on the highlights of the proposal. There were a few mundane items - such as increasing the work week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours without an increase in pay, trimming four weeks of vacation to three, and loosening existing constraints on management to use freelancers. And there were a few more difficult ones, such as more layoffs and discontinuing pension contribution.

In all fairness, the demands were harsh, but not entirely unreasonable. Partly due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area, and partly due to the fact that San Francisco was one of the strongest union towns, the employees at the San Francisco newspapers have always enjoyed some of the best benefit packages of newspapers anywhere in the United States. While California's escalating taxation is taking its toll on all residents, it's not particularly a burden that Hearst should be forced to carry as its employees are giving away more and more of their salaries to satiate a near-bankrupt state's penchant for spending.

It appears that the guild, after putting up light resistance, would be willing to accept most of management's demands - given the choice of losing their jobs outright vs. losing a few perks, vacation and sick days and freeze in pay. At least Hearst is not asking for direct pay cuts and unpaid furloughs, as a number of newspaper chains have done.

But the ball might be out of the guild's hands. Its other more notorious union brethren representing the composing room, pressmen and truck drivers may be less willing to give in. And this time, if they decide to call management's bluff, they may be making a grave mistake.

Meanwhile, Hearst is exploring other ways to improve its revenue stream as it's losing about $1 million per week at the Chronicle and a bit less at its other 15 papers. The company is contemplating a pay scheme for certain articles on its properties' web sites, including the Chronicle's popular sfgate.com site.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Hearst president Steven Swartz said his company is developing a new digital strategy that may also include a Kindle-like reading device:

Reworking its digital strategy is a part of Hearst's "100 Days" plan to cast a critical eye on longstanding newspaper-industry business practices. Mr. Swartz promised profound changes. "One inescapable conclusion of our study is that our cost base is significantly out of line with the revenue available in our business today," Mr. Swartz said. "It is equally inescapable that during good times our industry developed business practices that were at best inefficient."

Newsday Plans to Charge for Web Site

Newsday on Long Island may become the first U.S. metro daily newspaper to jump into the pay fray as a way to sustain the current business model. During a conference call Thursday, Cablevision CEO Tom Rutledge said his company, which owns Newsday and News12, a cable TV network in the New York metro area, will be charging for content on their sites, though he did not specify a time.

"When we purchased Newsday, we were aware of the long-term issues facing the traditional newspaper industry," Rutledge said. "We plan to end the distribution of free web content and make our newsgathering capabilities a service to our customers."

Newsday reportedly lost over $300 million in the fourth quarter last year and, with a well-trafficked web site, pay-for-content may help to offset some of the losses. Currently, the Wall Street Journal is the only U.S. newspaper site that requires a subscription.

Of course, it didn't take long for skeptics to emerge. In his blog, Ken Doctor thinks Newsday may be committing web site suicide:

The average unique visitor on Newsday.com spends four minutes, 25 seconds per month on the site. Ouch. That number can sub for lots of focus groups, price elasticity testing and the like. Newsday's would-be digital audience has voted with its fingertips. That number is up almost one minute from a year earlier, here courtesy of E&P's monthly Nielsen rankings, but still ranks Newsday as having the lowest online engagement of the top 30 newspaper sites.

Confronted with having to pay for a site you may use less than five minutes a month, you think you are going to pay for it? Wrong site. Wrong year. Wrong metro area.

He may have a very valid point. The New York metro area is blanketed by newspaper web sites: The New York Times, Daily News, Post and Star-Ledger, not to mention the Journal. This goes back to the argument that if a paywall has to be erected, the most probable way for it to succeed is having a cooperative among all newspapers.

Erecting the Great (Pay) Wall for Newspapers

Let's face it, pay-per-view will be returning to newspaper web sites with a vengeance in the near future. If not by the second half of this year, definitely 2010. Ad revenue is way down - for both print and online - and the recession isn't going anywhere soon.

By now, everyone's shared their own ideas about how to rescue the business. But lately, it's become apparent that we've run out of new thoughts. Most everyone has returned to some variation of a pay scheme.

No one except the Christian Science Monitor dares to do the obvious, which is to shut down the print edition altogether. Newspapers are still too afraid to embrace the new world by leaving the "paper" part of their legacy behind. Since that's the case, a paywall seems to be the only thing that might keep more newspapers from going out of business, for now.

But if we must erect a paywall, let's not make it just any wall. Let's build a Great (pay) Wall that's strong enough to keep the barbarians at bay.

Let's start by creating a cooperative, managed by the NAA (Newspaper Association of America). Every paper that's part of the NAA may participate in this cooperative, which will serve as the clearinghouse for the new great paywall.

Then, with ample warning to the readers, put up the wall on September 1. Why September 1? Because the summer is over, kids are back in school and adults are back at their computer terminals. But more important, it's the dawn of the football season, when web traffic typically spikes for news sites.

Once the wall is up, every newspaper web site is accessible only to paid subscribers. Each paper may decide to allow some free content daily, but it must be extremely limited. The index page for every paper's site should be so full of teasers on the good stuff that a reader just can't help himself but to pay to see what he's missing.

So how do you subscribe? There would be two kinds of subscribers. Anyone who subscribes to the print edition of any paper would be granted a complimentary online subscription. If you don't want to subscribe to your local paper - or any paper, for that matter - you may become an online-only subscriber, at say, $50 a year for the privilege.

Your unique username and password would allow you access to every newspaper site that's part of this cooperative. But here's one catch - you could only access it from one computer at a time (like how an AOL account works) so you won't be so inclined to share your account with dozens of your buddies. Educational institutions and large companies may purchase corporate accounts so that individuals using school or company terminals will be able to bypass the wall.

So how would the money be distributed? Papers get to keep all of the print subscriber money, so it makes sense for individual papers to work to drive up circulation. As for the online-only subscribers, half of the money would be equally divided among all members (socialism), the other half would be distributed according to web site traffic (capitalism), so papers would have an incentive to drive in more traffic to their own sites.

Let's do a little, and very crude, math. According to the NAA, its 2,000 member sites average about 75 million unique visitors. About 25 million already subscribe to a paper, so leave them out. If we may extract 50 bucks out of the rest of the 50 million heretofore freeloaders, that's $2.5 billion. Counting conservatively, at $1 billion, that means under the 50-50 scheme, the smallest of the papers would make about $250,000 annually. The New York Times, on the other hand, would make about $90 million, Wall Street Journal $33.5 million, San Francisco Chronicle, $38 million.

This model may tide the papers over the tough times until they figure out just what needs to be done for long-term survival. And there are challenges to implement this scheme: The Justice Department may have to sign off on the cooperative. There may be fierce pushback initially by the consumers. An independent auditor would be required to referee disputes.

And finally, the newspaper business has to be ready for the potential that this concept may be more like the Berlin Wall than the Great Wall of China - merely a flawed stop-gap rather than something that brings about stability and longevity. At some point in the future, the papers must accept the new reality and act accordingly.

That starts with stopping the presses.

ESPN Goes Loco ... er, Local

Like a vulture swooping down on a defenseless, wounded animal, ESPN is embarking on a new venture by creating offshoots that cater to individual cities and regions. Our comrade Ryan Hudson of RealClearSports has some interesting details.

ESPN's first target is Chicago, ripe for the picking because it's a city of passionate sports fans - and its two local papers are in financial distress. The Tribune's parent company filed for bankruptcy protection last December, and its rival Sun-Times is arguably in worse shape.

It's certain that Chicago will be just the first of the many, as a number of major metros are easy preys:

Denver - Rocky Mountain News may be closing in a month. Denver Post's parent company Media News is in financial dire straits.

Seattle - The P-I is going out of business, barring an 11th-hour deal. The Times is asking state legislature for a tax break to stay afloat.

Twin Cities - Minneapolis Star-Tribune is in bankruptcy, St. Paul Pioneer Press is in worse shape.

Detroit - The two papers are cutting back deliveries to three days a week and are expected to slash staff if it doesn't go well.

Philadelphia - The joint operating company of the two papers just filed for bankruptcy, with the Daily News teetering on the brink.

These are but a few cities with at least an NFL and a Major League Baseball franchise. With ESPN's reach from its TV, radio and web properties, it's not difficult to see how it may pull this off with relatively low cost. In addition, these markets may offer ESPN a prime opportunity to scoop up freshly unemployed sportswriters on the cheap - don't think for a minute that this idea isn't on its business plan.

About a week ago Steven Stark, writing in the Boston Phoenix, suggested that newspapers may want to consider shrinking down to just sports papers with a little bit of local news thrown in it.

Can local papers charge something for what they're offering now on the Web? Well, yeah -- but not much. But let's say local papers beef up their sports sections, as suggested. Would there be an audience willing to pay more for that? Quite likely, particularly in sports-mad towns. And there might be some incentive for individual papers along the line to develop types of expertise they could sell -- say, rugby for one paper or international news in India and Pakistan for another, and so on.

Stark may be onto something there. Other than the national papers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the sports section has always been the one that drives a paper's sales. (How many times have you been to a coffee shop to find a newspaper completely intact - only to realize that the sports section was missing?)

But if this is a survival strategy, the papers had better catch on fast. ESPN isn't going to wait.

Philadelphia Story: Bankruptcy

Philadelphia Newspapers LLC, the JOA that runs the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and the shared online portal philly.com, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday, becoming the fourth newspaper holding company to do so in the last three months.

Picture 1.png

The company is seeking to restructure its $390 million in debt, brought upon in part by the downturn in advertising over the last year. The company apparently had been in negotiations with its creditors for 11 months but was unable to reach a settlement.

A day earlier, the Journal Register Company, which owns 20 small dailies in the Philadelphia and Cleveland areas as well as in Michigan, filed for bankruptcy to seek relief from its debt of over $1 billion. That came after the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, also filed for bankruptcy in January and December, respectively.

Two other papers' fates likely will be determined next month: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News were both put up for sale by their respective parent companies as a formality in December. If no buyer is found - and so far there hasn't been any interest - the papers would cease publication before the end of March.

The P-I's staff is meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposal that would allow the employees to buy out the paper and save it from extinction. The P-I's rival Seattle Times, itself in severe financial distress, is lobbying Washington State lawmakers to reduce business tax levied on newspapers.

Media Job Losses Mounting

Over 65,000 people in the media industry lost their jobs in 2008, casualties of the recession that began near the end of 2007. In December 2008 alone, 18,000 jobs were shed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The impact is being felt across the media spectrum, from newspapers, magazines, television, radio, advertising and marketing. About the only sector that escaped the mass slashing is Internet media, which managed to add 5,400 jobs in 2008, including about 800 in December.

Advertising Age broke down the carnage:

Media's biggest loser last year: newspapers, which slashed 31,200 jobs, or 9.1% of staff. Radio cut 8,100 jobs, or 7.4% of staff. Broadcast TV cut 5,100 jobs, or 4%, while cable TV added 2,500 jobs, or 3%. Magazine publishers cut 4,500 jobs, or 3.2%. Bright spot: internet-media companies, which added 5,400 jobs, or 7%.

Among advertising/marketing-services companies, ad agencies last year cut 6,000 jobs, or 3.2% of staff, and graphic-design firms eliminated 7,400 jobs, or 9.9%. There were bright spots: Marketing-consulting employment rose by 2,200, or 1.4%, and public-relations agencies added 1,200 jobs, or 2.4%

A Newspaper Bailout?

With newspapers seemingly failing faster than banks, many ideas have sprouted in an effort to "save" the business. Content-sharing between former rivals is one. Reducing or eliminating print editions is another. And a couple of chains have resorted to unpaid furloughs to save jobs.

L.A. Times' Tim Rutten, his own paper also in a world of trouble, thinks that making the readers pay is the only way out. His idea certainly isn't original, but his proposal adds one twist - allowing the newspaper business to be exempt from existing anti-trust laws:

Two major newspapers -- the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times -- charge readers tiered fees to view their online journalism. The rest of the industry has decided there's more money to be made in charging advertisers for the larger audiences that free content attracts than in selling online subscriptions.

That's wrong, in my view, but it's hard to argue with as long as some major newspapers are giving their online journalism away; until they stop, nobody can risk charging for theirs. That's where the antitrust exemption would come in: It would allow all U.S. newspaper companies -- and others in the English-speaking world, as well as popular broadcast-based sites such as CNN.com -- to sit down and negotiate an agreement on how to scale prices and, then, to begin imposing them simultaneously.

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time, thinks a model based on the concepts of iTunes and PayPal might work. And his system could be used to encompass all media, including magazines, blogs and even garage bands.

Another idea, suggested by two Yale money men David Swensen and Michael Schmidt, is to get rich guys to endow newspapers, as they do universities. Essentially, they'd be sugar daddies subsidizing non-profit outfits:

Note that just as endowed educational institutions charge tuition, endowed newspapers would generate incremental revenues from hard-copy sales and online subscriptions. If revenues were to exceed the costs of distribution, the endowment requirement would decline.

Many newspapers will not weather the digital storm on their own. Only a handful of foundations and wealthy individuals have the money required to endow, and thereby preserve, our nation's premier news-gathering organizations. Enlightened philanthropists must act now or watch a vital component of American democracy fade into irrelevance.

Either method, however, introduces the potential dangers of polarizing both the publications and the audience. Sure, maybe the New York Times and Wall Street Journal might get an endowment from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but what of the Bakersfield Californian and The State of Columbia, S.C.? And if we go the route of the cartels, inevitably the big papers and large chains will band together, leaving the smaller, locally-owned papers in the cold.

It is the demise of the local papers that would have a greater impact on journalism. After all, the masses - the majority of the people in the United States - do not read the Times or the Journal to get their news. If the smaller chains and papers disappear - or are forced to a pay model that their customers are unwilling to support, then we would have an increasingly ignorant and less engaged public. They cannot be blithely written off - as the elites wish. They need to be part of this conversation.

Barbarians at the Gate

Just when was the dawn of the Internet age? It was earlier than you think. And the newspapers, as was pointed out in a previous post, they were really early adapters.

Check out this vintage video from a San Francisco newscast in 1981.

The anchor's parting shot seemed cute at the time, but it was that kind of complacency - or an underestimation of the power of the Internet - that put the newspapers in the bind they're in today.

During lunch yesterday with an editor of the besieged L.A. Times, we mused over just how newspapers lost their power over the readers. One thing was clear: Back in the day when the AP and other news wires were only available to the editors in newsrooms, the print media were the kingmaker. When the masses started getting their own wire reports from portals such as Yahoo!, Google and AOL over the Internet, the genie simply left the bottle for good.

Free Press, the French Way

Well, President Obama, maybe it's time to dig into that TARP money to bail out the newspaper industry.

Short of that, how about some government-subsidized delivery service?

French president Nicolas Sarkozy, always a man with an idea and on the move, has unveiled a grand plan to help the also ailing French newspaper industry:

One of Sarkozy's solutions to help the industry is a pilot program that will give teenagers celebrating their 18th birthday a free, yearlong subscription to any general news daily of their choice. The publisher is to give the newspapers away, while the state pays for the deliveries.

That initiative appeared designed to assuage industry fears that young readers don't share the same appetite for print media that their parents and grandparents have, denting current and future revenues.

Not a bad idea, on the surface. But it'll never fly here in the States for various reasons. The French government is already heavily subsidizing the newspaper business, with an annual boost expecting to reach $90 million this year. It's probably not something that will be matched in the less statist economy of the U.S. (though some think that's about to change). Besides, the way the U.S. papers are losing money, $90 million annually aren't enough to bail out even one paper - such as the San Francisco Chronicle.

But more to the point: The force-feeding kids of ink-stained papers just won't work. Back in the late '90s, in the adolescence of the Internet, I taught a few communications classes at UCLA. I made a habit of polling my students on newspaper readership, and even back then the news was not encouraging. With the student paper The Daily Bruin freely distributed and the Los Angeles Times available at a massive student discount, most of the kids still weren't into the papers. Overall, less than 5 percent of the students read newspapers on a regular basis.

With that in mind, Le Monde and Le Figaro had better not stake their futures on Sarkozy's birthday presents.

Outsourcing the News

The wheels continue to turn in the great makeover of newspapers. Outsourcing may be the newest fad.

Coming on the heels of content- and beat-sharing deals in Maryland and the Metroplex, the Tribune Co. is contemplating a proposal that would allow it to shut down expensive foreign bureaus. Already under bankruptcy protection, the Tribune Co. seeks to cut expenses by buying the Washington Post's international coverage so it wouldn't have to maintain its own overseas staffs for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

But the New York Daily News has an even more revolutionary idea. The nation's fifth-largest daily paper has signed a deal with GlobalPost, a Boston-based start-up, for its international news content. This is essentially outsourcing - GlobalPost is a warehouse where it hires an army of stringers worldwide on a part-time basis. More syndication deals like this will be needed to ensure its survival.

Is this a good idea? A quick glance at some of the GlobalPost articles suggests that its reporting is adequate. For most newspapers that rely on wire services for its foreign news coverage, this would even be an upgrade. But I think it's doubtful that most papers would be willing to pay the very reasonable fee of $50,000 or less to pick up GlobalPost if it never had overseas correspondents to start with.

Newspapers, though, will continue to explore ways to save money out of necessity - and outsourcing is an option. Last June, the Orange County Register and Miami Herald began outsourcing some of its copy editing to MindWorks Global Media Services, an India-based company. Since MindWorks claims that it saves the newspapers 35% to 40%, there surely will be more outsourcing to come.

MindWorks plans to expand its staff from its current total of 100 to 1,500 by 2013. If you're fresh out of J-school, you might want to consider relocating to New Delhi or Bangalore.

A Pay-Per-View Future?

The raging debate in the media industry these days is centered on whether media entities - specifically newspapers - should charge for their content. And if their readers are willing to pay for it.

Pay-for-content certainly isn't a new idea. The New York Times launched "Times Select" in 2005, putting some of its premium content behind a pay wall and charged $49.95 annually for it. It lasted just two years before the Times abandoned it in September 2007. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times maintain pay walls, but no other major U.S. or U.K. publications do so at this time.

Of course, with the current economic climate and plunging ad revenues, the pay-for-content concept is enjoying a rebirth - at least it's back in the conversation. Writing in the Times, David Carr pondered the possibility of an iTunes-like setup for newspapers to deliver the news, only to paying subscribers. It needs to go that way because the current model of online advertising just isn't going to pay the bills:

As a report by Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research stated last year, "The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face."

Slate's Jack Shafer responded to Carr's challenge by suggesting a Kindle-like device for the purpose of receiving the news - with subscribers paying a fee for the privilege. But Shafer admits that this model potentially would only work for the big dogs - the Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, maybe USA Today and Los Angeles Times.

This is where the future of newspapers - at least in the U.S. - may be reaching a fork in the road. There will be national papers that provide national and international news coverage, do investigative reporting and publish commentaries from the top thinkers and movers. Other papers would have to become aggressively local, covering cities, towns and rural areas - and they could charge for this content, too, since they will be found nowhere else.

The success of any pay-per-view model, however, will hinge on the public's willingness to fork over the dough for stuff it's taken for granted for some time now. At the moment, less than 10% of the public is willing to pay $30 a year for currently ad-driven free sites. Mike Vorhaus of Advertising Age writes that "Consumers might 'hate ads,' but not enough to pay even as little as a few cents a day to avoid them."

Source: Advertising Age

So the question remains: Will newspapers last long enough to finally get their readers to pay up for reading the news online?

The Lone Paper State

Well, it looks like Mark Cuban was just slightly ahead of his time.

Writing in his "Blog Maverick," the owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA franchise mused that in order for money-losing newspapers to save cost and stay relevant, they ought to band together - with help from the leagues - in covering sports teams:

My suggestion ... is to create a "beatwriter co-operative." ... The writers would cover multiple teams and multiple sports. They will report to the newspapers where the articles will be placed, who will have complete editorial control. In exchange, the newspapers will provide a minimum of a full page on a daily basis in season, and some lesser amount out of season. ... And most importantly, these articles will be exclusive to print subscribers. They can do all the ad supported short summaries online and minute by minute blog posts and tweets they would like. To make this work, print editions and subscriber only online sites have to become the de facto destinations for in depth and unique coverage. They have to become the local version of ESPN.com's for pay "ESPN Insider."


Well, not even three weeks since this blog post appeared, the "beat writer co-operative" is being formed in Cuban's very own Metroplex market. The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced that they will be combining sports coverage for all local pro and college teams, except the Dallas Cowboys.

Beginning Feb. 1, the Morning News will cover Cuban's Mavericks and the NHL Dallas Stars. The Star-Telegram will cover the Arlington-based Texas Rangers baseball team. This means the elimination of three pro beat writers, not to mention a number of others who cover auto racing, golf and college sports.

Star-Telegram Executive Editor Jim Witt and Morning News Editor Bob Mong said the move was being made in order to allow both papers to reduce expenses and eliminate duplicate stories while maintaining high-quality coverage of topics readers have come to expect.

So what once was considered journalistic competition is now merely viewed as "duplicate stories"? Welcome to 2009, the brave new world of newspaper journalism.

To be sure, the Metroplex Merger is not even the first of its kind. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun already started doing that on Jan. 1, on a far bigger scale involving many beats outside of sports. And there will be more to come.

Quickly spinning my head from coast-to-coast, I've come up with a not-so-short list of cooperatives soon to hit a market near you:

* Boston: Globe and Herald - The New York Times Co., owner of the Globe, really needs to save money and may need to dump the Globe altogether.
* Philadelphia: Inquirer and Daily News - They already share the same web site.
* Chicago: Tribune and Sun-Times - Trib filed for bankruptcy and Sun-Times is a penny stock.
* Detroit: Free Press and News - The papers will be drastically cutting back their print editions.
* Twin Cities: Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press - Star Trib just ended contract talks with the unions; bankruptcy may be next.
*San Francisco Bay Area: MediaNews already merged beats from Oakland, San Jose and Contra Costa. The Chronicle may soon join in.
* Los Angeles: Trib-owned LA Times may soon either abandon Orange County altogether, or enter into a forced marriage with the Register to cover the O.C.
* Seattle: Actually, with the Post-Intelligencer on the verge of being shut down, the Times might be the only game in town soon.

Things sure look bleak for the newspaper business in 2009 ... and we're not even two weeks into it yet.

Top International News Sites

Launched in August 2008, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics, RealClearWorld is quickly becoming one of the must-stops for international news junkies as well as foreign policy analysts looking for commentaries from around the world.

OK, so this is a bit of a self-promotion, but we do take our jobs very seriously at RealClearWorld, and this week, we felt it's time to let our readers in on some of our little secrets.

Featured In this week's RealClearWorld is the top five list of our favorite international news sites. While we rely a good deal of our daily aggregation on American publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post, we scour sites from more than two dozen countries for opinion and analysis piece with varying political biases.

Our top five include: Der Spiegel, World Politics Review, China Post, Japan Times and Al Jazeera. There are a few others that also deserve mention, such as The Australian, Asia Times, Lebanon's Daily Star, Pakistan's Daily Times and Canada's Globe and Mail.

Here's a detailed look at our top five and why we like them.

All the Ads That Are Fit to Print

Look at today's New York Times - the paper itself - and see if you find something unusual.


Yes, on the bottom of the front page, six columns across, is an ad, by CBS.

For the first time, the Times is selling front page space for display ads. The paper had occasionally run a few classified ads on the front page and display ads on the front pages of different sections - but never on A-1.

Chalk it up as yet another sign of the times.

This is not meant to pick on the NYT - far from it. Other leading papers - the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Los Angeles Times - have been doing this for some time. The combination of dwindling circulation and a bad economy that's depressing ad revenues is forcing all media entities to think of new ways to scrape for cash.

The magazine industry is also hurting, with considerably fewer advertising placements for its January issues. And the decline is universal, as magazines as diverse as Wired, Vogue, Boating and Boys' Life are all among the 10 worst-hit monthlies.

Newspaper Stocks Taking a Beating

Without question, 2008 was a terrible year for stocks. The Dow was down by 35% and the S&P 500 was off by about 40%. Yet, when it comes to getting hammered in the stock market, there's no business like the newspaper business.

A number of newspaper publishers have seen their stock value decline by 90% or more in 2008, having been or are on the verge of being delisted by the NYSE. Gatehouse Media, Journal Register and Sun-Times Media Group all have become penny stocks and been kicked off the big board.

The stocks for Gatehouse, which publishes nearly 100 mostly small-town dailies, are down 99.5%. Journal Register, parent company of 22 mostly suburban dailies, had a similar meltdown. Sun-Times, owner of the eponymous Chicago paper, is trading at about 5 cents a share.

Bigger chains are not faring much better. Lee Enterprises, with St. Louis Post-Dispatch its flagship, is trading at 40 cents a share. Media General, publisher of the Tampa Tribune, is at around $2.50. Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher and parent of USA Today and Detroit Free Press, is at $8.50, down from around $37 in January 2008.

The New York Times Co., despite all the bad news and bad press, actually has held up better than most. The NYT is trading at about $7.60, down from the 2008 high of $21. The NYT plans to mortgage its Manhattan building and is actively trying to sell its 17.5% stake in the New England Sports Ventures.

According to a source, the NYT is asking around $350 million for its share in the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN television network - though the actual worth of the stake is probably closer to $150-200 million. The company turned down an opportunity to unload the Boston Globe two years ago when it was valued at around $550-600 million. Today, the Globe is worth about $20 million.

The NYT has to sell something - anything - quickly. It is reportedly $1 billion in debt, with a $400 million credit line due to expire in May 2009. It might also want to think about selling about.com, which has been valued at around $600 million.

Heading for the Cliff with Blinders On

Sometimes I just don't get newspaper journalists, my onetime comrades-in-arms. With doom and gloom all over the newspaper business, many of them can't seem to see the big picture. Most often, they'd blame the impending demise of the papers on either corporate ownership or the Internet.

Here's latest example. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger thundered:

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don't expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won't be able to do it either.

Has it ever occurred to him that the web and the survival of newspapers need not be mutually exclusive?

For newspapers to stave off elimination, they need to start seeing the web as an ally, not an enemy. You can still practice journalism on the web, but you can't practice journalism when you're unemployed. What newspapers are facing now is mostly a technical issue, not one of their relevance. People still need journalists to do their jobs, they just don't necessarily need their news in the form of printed paper thrown at their doorsteps.

Glenn Reynolds and Will Leitch don't pretend to be - and they'll never replace - journalists. But instead of spending countless time bashing them, journalists need to open their eyes, and minds, to survive the Internet Age.

Web Blows By Papers as News Source

For the first time ever, more people cited the Internet than newspapers as their primary source for news, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, conducted Dec. 3-7 among nearly 1,500 adults in the U.S.

Currently, 40 percent of the respondents say that they get most of their national and international news from the Internet, up sharply from 24 percent in 2007. Newspapers remain the top source for 35 percent, about even with the past three years, but down significantly from the 50 percent as surveyed in 2003.

Pew Research Center

Television is still the top source for news, with 70 percent (multiple responses were allowed), though the web is closing in on it as well. Among young people (ages 18-29), the Internet has pulled even with TV, with each drawing 59 percent. Just a year ago, twice as many young people cited the tube over the web (68 percent to 34).

The Internet's gain in 2008 was partly fueled by the heated presidential election, during which a record number of people flocked to the web daily to get their political news. But the survey also confirmed perhaps the worst-kept secret in the media industry, that the viability of the printed press is in grave danger. The two trains have passed each other in broad daylight.

Grey Lady Selling Her Ball Team

Hard hit by the financial crisis and dwindling readership, the New York Times Co. is looking to unload its stake in a fabled sports franchise and its ballyard.

Why, it's the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, of course.


The Times Co., according to the Wall Street Journal, is seeking a buyer for its 17.5 percent interest in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park and NESN, the dominant sports television network in New England. The company may also include the Boston Globe newspaper in the package.

It's well known that the New York Times is facing unprecedented financial crunch. In September, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim acquired a 6.4 percent stake in the company for $127 million. It recently put its Manhattan building up as a collateral in an effort to secure a new loan to replace a $400 million credit line that's scheduled to expire in May 2009. It's reported that the Times Co. is $1 billion in debt.

The problem is that short of selling its assets - and this would be a terrible time to sell - the Times Co. has very few options. Its ad revenue took a huge dive so far in the fourth quarter and its flagship paper is continuing to lose readers (at least the print editions) at an alarming rate. The latest ABC circulation report puts the Times at just over 1 million readers, down nearly 8 percent from 2007 and a net loss of nearly 183,000 readers since its peak in 1993.

Adding to the Times' woes is the continuing erosion of its prestige. Just earlier this week, it was forced to admit that it had published a fake letter from Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe criticizing Caroline Kennedy's senatorial bid. Its shoddy journalism was, well, appalling:

In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the e-mail and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoe's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us. We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

Who knew it'd be so hard to find all the real news that's fit to print?

Beltway Marriage of Convenience

The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun have announced that on Jan. 1, 2009, the papers will share the majority of their content. The two papers were already part of the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, but previously they were prohibited from using each other's content. That restriction will be lifted by the new agreement.

Both papers insisted that this marriage of convenience will not result in newsroom cuts, but merely reassignments for reporters now doubled up on the same beats. The Sun will concede most of the coverage on the federal government, as well as the Navy football beat, to the Post, while the Post will be using the Sun's reports on northern Maryland counties and horse racing at Pimlico.

"I know journalists in both newsrooms may find this anathema," said Timothy A. Franklin, editor of the Sun, "but we're talking about daily, breaking, fairly routine stories so The Sun can use its resources developing original, unique content, which I think is a key part of our future success."

But one can't help but wonder if buyouts and layoffs would be imminent, particularly on the Sun's end. The paper is owned by the Tribune Company, which just filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and is looking to divest some of its assets, including the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Like just about every other paper in the United States, the Sun experienced a steep drop in readership in recent years. Its 2008 circulation is listed at 218,923, down 6 percent from 2007.

Top 10 Media Stories of 2008

Editor & Publisher released its top 10 "Newspaper Industry Stories of the Year." Of course, in keeping with the times, it's no longer simply the "newspaper industry." At least four of the 10 stories deal in some ways with the web and/or the business part of the media industry.

The top story, no surprise, is the rapid job losses in the newspaper business. Coupled with the hard-charging recession, the cuts reached apocalyptic proportions in 2008:

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates some 21,000 newspaper industry jobs disappeared this year. Somehow, newspaper owners continue to think that the way to handle economic downturns is to make their product worse be eliminating its most important asset, people. But with fewer reporters to dig up news as newspapers transition to the Web their content is going to look more and more like everything else online, limited and poorly reported.

That roughly echoed my sentiments when I applauded the Detroit newspapers' decision to reduce printing papers instead of cutting newsroom staff. Whether or not their bold gamble will set a new trend likely will become the top story for 2009.

To Charge or Not to Charge ...

Joel Brinkley, a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times, had what he considered a revolutionary idea for floundering newspapers to regain their footing. In essence:

Now, here's my idea: The newspaper industry should ask the Justice Department for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites. No paper would have to charge, and each paper could determine its own price. But if most papers in a region - San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for example - began charging for Web access at more or less the same time, many readers would likely subscribe.

Basically, Brinkley wants the Justice Department to allow the newspapers to practice a form of collusion so they can begin charging for original content. Collusion is required because unless almost all of the papers decide to get in, it would blow the pooch.

The problem with this thinking is that unless the entire world goes in on it, it just won't work. In fact, Brinkley's idea is really backward thinking - his old employer, the New York Times, had tried it and it didn't work. The Times Select concept was officially abandoned in September 2007 because paywalls only hurt business.

Newspapers would be better off thinking up ways to extract more out of their advertisers than the ol' pay-per-view route.