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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ditch the Wire, Lose the National/Foreign Stuff. Just Do Local News and Survive?

Jeff Jarvis sums up the most important task facing the MSM newspapers with this statement: "We need to stimulate radical discussion of radical new views to rethink this business before it's rethought without us." He makes that statement in the midst of an intriquing post inspired by Rupert Murdoch's ASNE speech Wednesday.

Jarvis proposes the possibility of a new business model for newspapers that intend to survive in the Internet era - cut out everything except the core franchise of local news. (That roar you may hear in the background is from the National Newspaper Association chanting "We told you so!). Lose Sports, lose Business, lose National News, lose the foreign desk and stop wasting money trying to persuade people that chicken tastes differnt in Philly than it does in Peoria.

Then comes the hard part and the opportunity succeeding will create:
"And what are you left with in this exercise? You are left with your core value: local news. That's not a commodity. That's a uniqe value. And that's the point.
"So now take some of your savings -- net savings after, yes, you do lose some sports fans and elderly mutual-fund owners -- and plow it into reporting. But find new and efficient ways to get more local news:

"Harness the power of your public and get news and information from new sources that you help support with information, promotion, training, trust, and most of all revenue. Pay the person who covers the school board if the audience agrees it's valuable. Become the meeting place , as Hugh McLeod says, for everything local, all the news that matters to you -- and the conversation about it.
"Become a better local news operation than you've ever been with more news and more reporting and more engagement from the public you serve.
"I'd argue that you could cut all that stuff out of the old, one-size-fits-all paper and even raise your price because it would be unique and valuable.
"Then you could ask the next question: Do you still want to print it on paper? For now, yes, because advertisers are slow to adapt and so there's still more money in print. But the public is not slow to adapt, so you must adapt to them and give them this valuable local news where, how, and when they want it; don't be limited by the press and its schedule."

Frankly, I think local Sports is intrinsic to the Local News Beat generally, just as much as the schools and transportation beats are, particularly in the suburbs. But Jeff's basic point is spot-on - survival means being willing to rethink everything. Because everything is literally at stake for the daily newspaper we all once knew and loved.