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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Here's How to Save the Daily Newspaper

In his latest TCS Daily column, Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds takes up the question of the future - if any - of the daily newspaper and proposes a plan very much like my own for saving an institution with roots that reach back to the Reformation.

Reynolds makes two key recommendations, starting with getting rid of the paper and the rest of the antiquated equipment associated with it:

"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."

Chunking the paper and presses - along with all those clapped out delivery trucks and the circulation department - will free up lots of money to make the single most important investment any business must make and that is in the human capital that produces the product.

"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."

But merely hiring a bunch of folks with the old skills won't get it. Journalism is changing and so must journalists:

"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."

Harsh? Not really because Reynolds is simply speaking of the reality that faces all of us in the job market every day. Just like the unions in other industries that fought change tooth and nail, the Newspaper Guild isn't likely to cheer these moves.

"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)."

Will many or any of the existing daily newspaper organizations follow this path? Some already are, but it is difficult to over-estimate the inertia and outright resistance within the Mainstream Media to these realities.

Which is why I often am reminded of a particular line in the lyrics to The Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown." You know, the one about daddy still perfecting ceiling wax (Or is that "sealing wax"?).

Go here for Reynolds' full column.