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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Knight Ridder Sale Could be McClatchy's Chance to Ditch the Print, Go All Online All the Time

Technology advances almost always involve the junking of old ways of doing things and their replacement with more efficient ways. The news business is no different, as seen in such transformations as the replacement of typewriters by computer systems. No more typewriter maintenance contracts.

Now the news business is on the threshold of another replacement of one technology with another as newspapers move from a hard copy paper platform that is expensive and geographically limited to a digital platform that eliminates the most expensive piece of equipment - the printing press - and requires no more trees to be chopped down and made into newsprint.

Those massive rolls of newsprint and the whirring machines they feed that print newspapers are exceeded only in personnel costs on the typical newspaper operation, so getting rid of the first two ought to free up tremendous amounts of capital to be invested in new technologies and perhaps even in expanding the editorial staff.

Paul Chesser of the Carolina Journal has an excellent piece on The American Spectator's web site this week that explains why McClatchy Newspapers' purchase of Knight Ridder could be the opportunity for a major publisher to make the switch in a dramatic fashion.

Notes Chesser:

"Acclaimed as one of the few exceptionally run newspaper chains in America, McClatchy is positioned to turn a community into one served solely through electronic news delivery. It's time to see if a text media provider in a given city can thrive without daily paper throwers."

Among the reasons Chesser cites are the facts McClatchy already possesses demonstrated online savvy, getting rid of printing and paper costs could be the difference between profitability and elimination for at least some of the 12 Knight Ridder papers reportedly slated for elimination and the time has come to be rid forever of the antiquated circulation system that depends upon route delivery.

Will McClatchy seize the moment? Chesser offers this bit of wisdom from CBS anchor Bob Schieffer:

"'If the railroads had realized that they were in the transportation business, they'd own all the airlines today. Unfortunately, they thought they were in the railroad business, and that's what we have to keep in mind here. We're in the information business.'"

Chesser's case for choosing one of the 12 cities served by a newspaper slated for sale or closure makes excellent sense, though instead of the State College, Pa., or Rock Hill, SC, he suggests, I would go to Philadelphia.

Why? Because Philly is in the process of making the entire city a WiFi zone and it is the home of two of the most honored names in American newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

If Philly's dailies can be saved by moving online, there is hope for newspapers everywhere. And think about this: Dumping the printing presses, newsprint and delivery drivers could free up more than enough money to rebuild two editorial staffs into digital junkyard dogs that could turn the City of Brotherly Love upside down.