Digital may be a newspaper’s only option
There has been a lot of buzz about a recent entry by 24/7 Wall Street entitled “The Ten Major Newspapers That Will Fold Or Go Digital Next.” It’s one of the more indepth reviews of major newspapers in America and their possible fate. One of the daily papers listed is the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The potential hope for this paper would be to merge with the Dallas Morning News and create a regional paper. Some see this as a welcome move and others lament the loss of a local paper focused on Fort Worth issues.
In an entry posted today Matt Glazer of Burnt Orange Report wrote that the number of political reporters has dwindled from 83 reporters in 1983 to 53 in 2009. “Clearly the tools and means to disseminates information during political campaigns and the legislative session is getting weaker. This means field and grassroots communication will become more valuable as our tools for mass communication dwindle,” said Glazer. I agree with Matt that without good local papers some Texans could be deprived of critical information about Texas and the lege.
I’ve written before about the changing role of newspapers expecting some time before something like this would come about. However, it appears that time may be sooner than expected as the recession continues to deepen and ad revenues are scaled back. I think a lot of papers will be struggling with how to continue to deliver news and maintain a printing operation with home delivery, two of the more costly components of a newspaper. Digital delivery may be their only option.
One model that might be considered is a donor model similar to public television and radio. This has been successful for the Minnesota Post (MinnPost.com), an online-only model started by former Star-Tribune employees. With donor categories ranging from $10 on up MinnPost is entirely funded by a donation base along with grants provided by several non-profit organizations. The donations are tax-deductible which provides a little more incentive to donate to the publication.
Another is the micropay option described in my prior posting on this subject. The only challenge with micropay is that the cost of infrastructure could overwhelm the publication and prevent a cost-effective method for payment. One option I have heard discussed would be to scale back print content and deliver more in an online model at a subscription fee. This would drive those who want in-depth content to leverage a much cheaper delivery option. This actually makes sense and could help a paper like the Express-News survive.
Regardless of the model newspapers are going to have to re-invent themselves to remain competitive and solvent. Strategy discussions for such a situation need to be happening now and infrastructure laid in place. Otherwise, the water may eventually boil around the frog and there’ll be no time to react.