How I know that newspapers are dead

After I started blogging in December about the onrushing death of the newspaper industry — as exemplified by the shrinkage, corporate-wise, of the Times-Dispatch and its parent, Media General — I continued to think about the topic a great deal. So much so, in fact, that I had the idea to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, which, after a week of writing, I sent to my agent.

She got back to me not long after that and told me, bluntly, that the book would never sell to a mainstream house.

Why not?

People aren’t buying newspapers today, she told me . . . so who would buy a book about newspapers?

While that fact is increasingly significant, I still thought it was a good idea. 48 million people read a newspaper every day, and that doesn’t count the millions of readers of a few thousand community weekly papers — and a large number of American who don’t read any papers at all, but are interested in business, the economy, futurism, and publishing.

I can try to get another agent who might believe in the book – hell, I got Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and NYT bestselling author Edna Buchanan to agree to write the foreword for me – but then I started thinking about a less traditional publishing route, where I could capitalize on publishing on the Web and stir up some viral word of mouth.

Yesterday I contacted Jeff Jarvis, the guy who wrote What Would Google Do? and who has a blog all about journalism, technology and the death/rebirth of news, and I asked for his advice — is there a venue on the Web where a book like this could be published, maybe week by week, and raise not only public interest, but some money? Is there a venue where a potential publisher could see it?

His response, like my agent’s, was brutally honest.

No. There isn’t a market for a book about a dying industry.

He had already tried to market a book of his own, and his publisher didn’t even want to hear about it.


If Jeff couldn’t sell his book, then what chance would I, a mere 14-year veteran of ad sales and marketing, ever have?

If you’re even remotely interested, the introduction is here. I based it on a blog post about the RTD ten months ago, but I’ve expanded it and opened it up, setting the stage for the rest of the now-dead book which was to be about the potential reinvention of the industry.

Here’s the title:



A Tough Love Guide to Kick Newspapers Off Their Brontosaurian Asses and Into the 21st Century . . . or Die

Oh well. Thank you anyway, Jeff — I appreciate your honesty.

So it’s time to put this project behind me and ramp it up with the novel. My agent wants rewrites, and I agree.

More than I ever wanted to admit, it’s time to cut. It’s time to sing.

It’s time to leave the past — and the dead — behind.

The Long, Slow Death of the Times-Dispatch

. . . and the dinosaurs are feasting today on their own young at 300 East Franklin.

57 good people were shit-canned today, and two more are scheduled for May. Some are people I worked with for nine years; some are friends I’d known for years beforehand, as colleagues and as rivals. Good people, all of them.

Not a single one of them is a bow tie from the corporate office directly across Franklin Street.

Here’s the press release masquerading as an article on Note how it pretty much says nothing of any importance whatsoever. Seriously, you’ve got to love the sheer artistry, the disingenuous genius, that goes into writing bullshit of this caliber:

“This is not a day I ever wanted to see come. I thank each and every departing employee for their years of valued service that helped publish Richmond’s daily newspapers,” said President and Publisher Thomas A. Silvestri.

There are no plans to eliminate days of publication. The Times-Dispatch will continue its focus on breaking, local news and insightful and thorough coverage of our core market in Central Virginia where more than 80% of its readers live and work.

“Despite today’s announcement, our news mission at the RTD remains clear,” said Vice President and Executive Editor Glenn Proctor. “We will provide readers and viewers with a vibrant news website and print product worth reading every day. We will do that by sharpening our focus on state and municipal government, state and local politics, education, crime and public safety, college and prep sports, and, of course, the economy and business.”

“We will do everything we can to retain our current customers by demonstrating our strength as the leading provider of high-quality content and services,” Silvestri added.

Beautiful, isn’t it? And it’s curious how Silvestri and Proctor sound so similar in this piece. I mean, it’s eerie, isn’t it? Unearthly. Almost as if someone were writing the words for them.


The dinosaurs obviously have it all figured out and are doing the best for their company. Right? They’re performing surgery on themselves on the advice of middle managers and bean counters who simply don’t understand that the future is here and it’s coming to get them if they don’t evolve and run faster, better, and leave behind their usual, hidebound, corporate bullshit.

And why, exactly, is it bullshit? Well, let’s read between the lines, shall we, and try to discern the pattern hidden behind the corporate curtain, and you tell me what you come up with:

1. Downsizing the reporting staff is one thing. But the primary sales rep responsible for at least — and this is conservative — half the revenue that flows from national accounts was let go. Why?

2. The library staff was let go, except for two. Why?

3. Three months ago the two-person research staff was let go. Why?

4. In May — the end of the school year — the Newspaper in Education staff will be terminated. They aren’t revenue producing, but they pulled in circulation numbers — about 2 million papers were distributed to area schools last year. Why?

5. Despite “Silvestri’s” claim in the press release that there are no plans to cut publication days, Style Weekly reports that:

Media General, the Times-Dispatch’s parent company, announced a reorganization of its corporate business structure last week, described by company officials as a move to a “Web First strategy.” Divisions between the company’s television, print and Internet holdings were broken down and replaced with five geographic markets. That strategy is in line with remarks made by T-D Publisher Tom Silvestri in recent years, in which he’s speculated on a merging of the company’s mediums, with the daily print newspaper ideally scaled back to three times a week or fewer, in favor of an online presence.

6. Style also reports that:

“Sources also say the newsroom was recently informed of changes that largely do away with the food section and real estate pages. Times-Dispatch spokeswoman Frazier Millner clarifies with Style that Wednesday food coverage will stay with a “change in format,” including going to black and white . . .”

NOTE THIS LAST PART. It’s extremely important . . .

Sure, the bow ties will tell us these positions were being eradicated and it’s all an effort to cut costs. Somewhat true, that is. (Why, suddenly, do I sound like Yoda?)

But here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s the truth I see lurking behind their flimsy, patchwork wall of excuses and bullshit: The Times-Dispatch doesn’t need a few million in national sales; they don’t need a research staff; they don’t need to promote papers in schools; they don’t need librarians to get facts and answers to reporters; they may or may not go to a three-day a week publishing schedule, but it won”t really matter in the long run; and the paper can return to glorious black and white despite what readers really want . . . all this because the bow ties up in the MG dinosaur den are gutting the company not only to save short term costs, but in order to justify the company’s deliberate and eventual suicide.

I admit: on the surface, some of the personnel cuts they made today were justified. Some were justified during the last two rounds, as well. But this round eliminates people and jobs that are only unnecessary if you begin to consider the unthinkable: that the company is preparing not only to go Web-first, but Web-only, and that the RTD will cease publication, perhaps not in a matter of years, but in months.

The RTD is quite top heavy now, but there won’t be any cuts up in the dinosaur den. They’re tightening their bow ties and polishing their spats, getting ready to run with their seven figure salaries and bonuses, as per their contracts, as signed by God! But be assured there will be more bloodletting at the staff levels in three months — the end of the current fiscal quarter. Personally, I think that the RTD will sell out their advertising art department and outsource to freaking India for all ad production, just like their Winston-Salem and Tampa papers — if not by July, then by October.

If I’m proven wrong, it will be because the bow ties will kill the paper by the end of the fiscal year.

Deliberate and eventual suicide.

Today the dinosaurs posted an editorial that makes fun of Twitter, the online messaging site.

Web-first. You’ve gotta laugh. They just don’t get it. The future is here — hell, Asimov predicted this in an essay in 1983 (I’ll blog about that another time) — and it’s inconceivable to them!

How can they possibly go Web-first if they are woefully Web-ignorant?

The RTD can again become successful — not through downsizing and knee-jerk change, but by the embrace of deliberate corporate evolution; by a careful examination of American culture and consumer needs in the 21st century; by working with the public, instead of merely exploiting them; by hiring people who just freaking get it and by the firing of those who don’t; and by the adoption of reasonable financial goals.

But I no longer think the bow ties will take the high road and do what’s necessary.

I think they’re gonna cash their bonus checks and bail, leaving us with the Richmond Times-Disgrace. “Thanks, Richmond! Been nice knowing ya! I’ll see ya on hole 9!”

Media General Death Watch – March 31, 2009

Media General Lays Off 53 Today In Tampa Offices

No uptick, the guy says. Are they freakin’ clueless or what?


By RICHARD MULLINS | The Tampa Tribune

Published: March 30, 2009

The Florida Communications Group Monday laid off 53 employees and eliminated 12 open positions due to continuing declines in the local advertising market, executives said.

“The various economic drivers of our business continue to be off and we’ve just not seen any uptick whatsoever,” said John Schueler, president of FCG, part of Media General Inc.

FCG operates The Tampa Tribune, and WFLA News Channel 8. In addition, the company ceased publishing the Flair and Skirt lifestyle publications. Other specialty publications are also under review, and the company is considering closing some news bureaus, Schueler said.

One of the employees now out of a job is WFLA sports anchor Dave Reynolds.

Most of the laid-off employees worked in operations rather than newsrooms, which have seen their own layoffs in the last 12 months.

The company also added three more unpaid furlough days to the existing 10 furlough days all employees must take by the end of the third quarter.

After the cuts, FCG will employ 1,047 people, and it remains profitable, Schueler said.

Reporter Richard Mullins can be reached at (813) 259-7919.

Thanks to a FB friend for the tip off.

More newspapers HOT on the trail of the dodo

Another newspaper goes bankrupt? It must be Tuesday.

Yesterday, two metro newspapers ceased daily publication. Read “Detroit’s Daily Papers Are Now Not So Daily” from the New York Times for all the pertinent facts; but this post from Gawker boils it down:

Detroit Newspaper Stop Delivery At Absolute Worst Time
By Ryan Tate, 2:44 AM on Tue Mar 31 2009, 1,608 views

Detroit’s two newspapers apparently needed confirmation that no longer delivering their paper most days was a terrible idea. They got it: GM’s CEO was fired the first day they stopped delivering.


But the nespapers’ [sic] plan to deliver the news online, in the manner of the future, worked, right? Let’s ask the Times:

The computers delivering the e-editions could not keep up on Monday morning, and many people were unable to load them…

“We had an overwhelming — literally overwhelming — number of people trying to get onto the e-edition site this morning…” said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The News…

Oh, my. Well, what about those printed old-timey newspapers available at stores and so forth?

“I don’t have time to stop at the store,” said [Nancy Nester, 51]. “That’s why I have home delivery… There was this feeling of emptiness.”

Well, that’s an achievement: Making a resident of Detroit somehow feel more hopeless and empty inside. Also: Making Detroit officially the most depressing town in America. (For now.)

Michigan, Michigan, what is happening in Michigan? Last week it was announced :

Ann Arbor News To Close In July, Will Be Replaced By Website

And just today, a few hundred miles away, the second major metro daily in Chicago, the Sun-Times, has announced it will be joining the Chicago Tribune in blissful bankruptcy, till executive bonuses us do part. Here’s a report from Chicago’s CBS affiliate that explains it all.

Tip of the iceberg, fellow true believers.

Hey, do you have cats? I do — five of ’em. And one of them HATES to use kitty litter, so I’ve been stockpiling old issues of the Times-Dispatch (yes, there is at least ONE good use for the RTD) and shredding them so whichever cat it is will use the paper box and not the floor. Today, completely by happenstance — coincidence, one might say, but I’m not sure there’s any such a thing as coincidence — I slid the Commentary section of the Sunday, August 3, 2008 RTD out of the middle of the pile and poised my scissors —

And stopped upon sight of the headline below the fold:

Reports of Newspapers’ Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

The author, Randy Siegel, wrote this piece originally for Advertising Age in June 2008, and the RTD reprinted it two months later. Both Siegel, “president of Parade Publications and publisher of Parade magazine,” and the Times-Dispatch/Media General have a vested interest in convincing the public that what we’re seeing all around us isn’t really happening: they want to hold on for as long as possible and squeeze every dime they can out of the American consumer without sacrificing their executive bonuses.

So the dinosaurs lie to us, a 21st century audience, with articles such as this, using vocabulary meant to be insulting, but really indicating the hidden fear behind their bravado: the fear that their industry will soon be extinct. They quote Mark Twain because all they know is the past. Analysts of the newspaper industry are reduced to “prognosticators;” critics are “pundits;” doomsayers, proving more and more accurate every week, are mere “wags.”

I believe I’m a prognostipundiwag.

The interesting thing is that the editorial is less about newspapers themselves than it is about the newspaper companies, and how they must change to survive. Of course, Siegel, a newsosaur, wants to charge for content (keep dreaming, bud!) and pretty much keep things the way they are; completely in denial that change — controlled change, designed and strategized to keep the media companies in complete control of the news and their products and, consequently, your hard-earned cash — is not what is truly needed. That’s not real change at all. That’s just financial juggling.

Evolution is necessary for Media General, the Times-Dispatch, and every metropolitan newspaper company in America to stay alive: evolutionary change that realizes the media is no longer in control of the news as long as it’s on the Internet, because, bottom line, the users control the Internet.

That’s me, and that’s you.

It ain’t them.

You can’t read the article online unless you subscribe to AdAge. But if you want to read it, come over to my house. It’s at the bottom of the litter box, caressing my kitty’s sensitive ass. She’s a wag, too.

Times-Dispatch Death Watch

Media General released news of a corporate reorganization that looks simple on the surface, yet very telling on another level.

Instead of looking at its operations as three types of media – publishing, broadcasting and interactive – Media General is going to organize and manage the company by geography, with all properties in a given market reporting to a market leader, regardless of platform. . . .

Virginia/Tennessee – James A. Zimmerman. He is currently President of the Broadcast Division. In 2008, the VA/TN market had revenues of approximately $235 million.

Florida – John R. Schueler. He is currently President, Florida Communications Group. In 2008, the FL market had revenues of approximately $215 million.

Mid-South – John R. Cottingham. He is currently Senior Vice President, Broadcast Stations. The Mid-South market includes South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. In 2008, the Mid-South market had revenues of approximately $170 million.

North Carolina – James R. Conschafter. He is currently Senior Vice President, Broadcast Stations. In 2008, the NC market had revenues of approximately $105 million.

Ohio/Rhode Island – Richard E. Rogala. He is currently Vice President and General Manager, WCMH-TV Columbus, Ohio. In 2008, the OH/RI market had revenues of approximately $62 million.

I noticed the same thing the reporting website concluded:

RBR/TVBR observation: We can’t help but notice that all of the new market segments will be headed by people from the Broadcast Division.

The real question is why aren’t there any newspaper executives in this line-up? Why is broadcast leading the charge?

Or maybe the bow ties at MG are finally getting it.

Dinosaurs can’t reach for the future.

They have only one possible fate.

The Onrushing Death (by Stupidity) of the Times-Dispatch

It seems like Richmond has been completely confused by the purchase of by the Richmond Times-Dispatch/Media General.

You aren’t the only ones. From an insider’s POV, in November it looked like MG bought the site in a way to increase local presence, but without bothering to figure out beforehand not only how to do that, but how to market all the disparate sites they had.

In the months prior, they ramped up reps in the Internet sales/advertising department and started a bunch of blitzes that basically failed to inspire the print side to do a damn thing to help the IT side.

Then they bought Then they announced that at the RTD, print comes second, Web is first.

But was anyone in corporate communicating with anyone else?

In November of 2008, Media General purchased from site owner John Whitlock for an undisclosed price. The company’s plans for that site remained a mystery.

Now it appears Media General is responding to some of the confusion generated by operating three local sites by paring them down to two. One will stick to the basics and serve newspaper readers who also read the news online. The other…well it’s still a bit of a mystery.

Michael Fibison, who manages several Virginia websites for Media General, wouldn’t confirm or deny the planned change, nor provide details about what a revamped might look like.

It’s possible that the company may be intending to try and attract the younger generation, who use the web almost exclusively for their news. With newspaper readership falling, Media General has to find a way to secure an online audience to survive.

Ain’t gonna happen. The “young online audience” doesn’t like literal labels, nor old-fashioned ones. is as contemporary as Compuserve, eToys and

And they’re all dead.

Here’s the whole article from

Part II: Newspapers Must Evolve…and Right Now

Welcome to the second part of this creature that might be an essay. I began it yesterday with Part I: Is News Dying Along with Newspapers? Part II should, rightly, be subtitled, How a Smart-Ass with 14 years Experience in Newspapers Thinks Newspapers Have to Evolve . . . and Survive.

Look, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway: This is crunch time for print journalism. The old ways are dying, but newspapermen (and -women) are reluctant to give up their valued traditions. Hence, I believe, the major conflict in newspaper offices today: The CEOs and managers simply do not understand how to face the future. The options available to them are being clouded by a host of critical short-term problems which not only demand immediate action, but they obscure a view of any promise that might be in the future.

The news business is always reactionary; content depends on things that happen, every day, and we report it; our business models change as customer needs and demographics change.

At least, they’re supposed to.

But we’re in a period of massive upheaval now, and change has to come immediately — and be radical. In short, any change has to be big, it has to be fast, and it will by its very nature go against the grain of every tenet newspaper people believe. The industry cannot afford to act traditionally right now — instead it has to take some chances, make some gambles, and — GASP! — be innovative.

We have to create our own future as much as we can. News reporting, itself, is reactionary. But the business side cannot afford that philosophy any longer. The business side has to come to grips with a fast-moving, dynamic future . . . one that, frankly, is already here.

This means a lot of change and a lot of turmoil. It means that the business side is going to have to keep an eye on the basic problems every newspaper faces, as well as the ever-increasing competition; and if you don’t remember how I define all that, I’ll repeat it from a previous blog post:

The cost of newsprint is ever-increasing. General readership is dwindling. Its remaining readers and subscribers, generally over 40, are dying off day by day, and today’s youth — everybody under 40 — are turning elsewhere for news and information. The Times-Dispatch’s competition isn’t Style or the Richmond Free Press; it’s everything: television shows, radio, books, soccer practice, church, shopping, going to movies, dining out, surfing the Web, having sex, driving in rush hour, washing the dog, texting, Twittering, Facebooking, going to the National, vacationing, the Skins game…every damn thing is competition.

So: what to do?

A friend at the Times-Dispatch emailed me a few weeks ago and asked me what I think we had to do to save newspapers, and I’ll tell you what I told him.

We can’t save them all.

That’s it, bottom line. It’s a hard truth to face, but the shakeout that is inevitable is going to thin the herd substantially. Seriously. Many more than you think right now. Hardest hit, I believe, are going to be the metropolitan daily newspapers, of which the Richmond Times-Dispatch is a perfect example.

The reason why is simple. Fragmentation.

Over the years, with each new generation of technological advances in communication, the general audience — for everything — has gradually fragmented. Go to the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble or Borders. There are no copies of Life or Look (remember Look?). Offhand I can’t think of a single magazine that caters to a general audience other than Reader’s Digest. (And I would argue that RD is NOT general interest; no one reads it unless they’re fifty plus, right-wingers, and they keep stacks of them in the bathroom. They have a definite target audience, with about a five- to fifteen-minute reading threshold before they have to flush.)

General interest magazines are failing — and have been failing for years — because their audience is fragmenting. The audiences (plural, now) are turning to magazines and shows and websites that cater to their interests, including news outlets. This is one important and overlooked reason the readership of the Times-Dispatch and other metro-dailies is dropping off rapidly.

The product isn’t interesting to contemporary America.

That’s a harsh concept to face, but newspapers must come to grips with it, and now. Newspapers can no longer afford to be all things for all people, when most of the audience in their circulation areas actively choose NOT to read the product.

Instead, to survive, metro-daily newspapers are going to have to change beyond the scope of what any tradition could ever imagine:

1. Physical format

Downsize the newspaper to the tabloid format, like the Village Voice or the New York Daily News. I can’t guarantee that this will save money or not — the bean counters in the ivory towers will have to sort all this out — but talk around the RTD while I was there was that switching to tabloid would cut newsprint costs.

More importantly, the current broadsheet format of most newspapers is ubiquitous, and, therefore, not impressive to the populace. At all. It’s ignored. Dull. We’re talking about perception here. A tabloid format will probably be looked upon as innovative and interesting, new and different; not at all like the old-fashioned papers that only old people are buying, anyway.

2. Change the logo.

Seriously. Not kidding.

Fifty years ago, an old English masthead stood for something, giving the impression that the newspaper not only had substance, but it was impressive, it was dynamic; it was a rock upon which citizens could depend.

It represents exactly the opposite nowadays — that the product isn’t keeping up with the times or the new generations — and the old-fashioned logos most newspapers use have actually become liabilities. They do exactly what mastheads and logos are supposed to do — represent the newspaper in every way — but the public now perceives it in a completely opposite manner than intended.

If the public can’t be changed, then the product has to change.

3. Change the content radically.

Survey after survey tells the Marketing people that readers want more local news in the newspaper. The RTD has responded with publishing a big-headline local story, usually above the fold, every day.

It ‘s not enough.

This is going to be the biggest change the metro-dailies will have to face. It is both a content change and a philosophical change, and it is going to be both hated and highly controversial:

Metro dailies must change their content to focus 80% on local news.

And this is why: National news is regarded as free online and on television, and it is clear that readers prefer getting national and world news from those sources.

Okay then. Let them have it.

The core newspapers readers want more local news. They want it in a physical format that they can cut out and frame when their friends and family are featured.

Give it to them.

And this is what’s going to happen: people seeking national news will reject the newspaper, because they can get all the news they want online. The people wanting local news will probably be very happy. The audience may actually grow as communities are featured more and more; and instead of focusing on general interest, bigger-picture stories — which the public doesn’t want — reporters will examine the ins and outs of daily life in our tight communities.

Bottom line: journalism is a business that has to pull in revenue. Newspapers can no longer afford to give the public what they think the public needs. They have to give them what they want.

This is not a metro-daily that I particularly want to read, and I know it’s not one that most reporters want to work for. But remember the core demographics of the newspaper today: over 40, white collar, college educated, household income generally more than $75,000 annually. These people are already reading the paper, and they’re asking for more local content — why not give it to them and see if circulation increases with stories about little Bobby’s softball game, and how the local church group made quilts and raised $10,000 for malnourished African babies?

Three points newspapers have to face:

We are talking about publishing to a niche audience, not a general audience.

General interest publications are no longer viable in the marketplace.

Newspapers must adapt or die.

4. After defining your core niche, create new publications that focus on your region’s other niche audiences.

You should have heard the howls of indignation and outrage in the RTD offices when Boomer Life appeared on the stands. It was right after the RTD publisher, Tom Silvestri, brought in the high-priced guru behind the Boomer Initiative, which quite correctly identified the core Times-Dispatch audience as members of the Baby Boomer generation. The RTD was gearing up to focus on this primary audience when issue #1 of Boomer Life was suddenly available in racks at Ukrop’s and Food Lion, for free.

Imagine the journalistic body slam that shook the building.

That core audience — niche, if you will — is the RTD’s bread and butter, baby. Turning the focus toward that audience, instead of a 100% general audience, would have been a smart step. But Boomer Life was a banana peel under the RTD’s foot just about a year ago; and then this recession hit the newspaper industry like a tornado in a trailer park. Focus suddenly switched to survival.

There is a lesson, though. They were on target. Boomer Life took a little wind out of their sails, but the RTD was right to target that audience.

Now other niche audiences must be defined, and new publications must be created to cater to them. These magazines — not newsprint products, but magazines, whether free or for sale — ideally will replace and surpass the revenue lost by the paper’s changeover to a Locals’-interest
newspaper. Consider: a daily paper, a month mag for women, a monthly mag for boomers (why not?), a monthly for parents and families, a bi-weekly for central VA tourism and museums, a home and garden bimonthly . . . and accompanying websites, with both local AND national advertising, PLUS web content updated at least weekly . . .

This is a new world we’re talking about, and the Jurassic managers must evolve or . . . I think you get it.

(Why magazines, you ask? Because newspapers are considered common. Low. Magazines on glossy paper are upscale. Contemporary. Exciting. It’s all about perception, isn’t it?)

5. Sex it up.

I don’t mean to add sex and sex stories to the paper or any new magazines (however, given the number of adult shops in metro Richmond, there might be an argument for an adults-only monthly mag . . .). What I mean is: Newspaper content has to be “sexy,” as in, it has to be entertaining and has to make the public WANT to read it. The old argument that “Our news is best” or that the public needs our news just doesn’t hold up today. They have to WANT to read the paper if the RTD expects people to pay for it. Stop telling news stories in the old-fashioned, boring, highly structured ways. Be creative with the use of language. Meet your readers at their own level — not of intelligence or a reading level, but on a level of excitement, of fun, of experiencing what the world has to offer. Give articles an edge, damn it! Stop writing for pedestrians. Write for people who want to live! Give them what they want.

6. Consider a free, 100% advertising-supported model for the new Richmond Times-Dispatch.

I know it goes against everything newspaper people have stood for since time immemorial.

Get the hell over it. Do P & Ls out the ass. Swallow your pride and start thinking about surviving. Circulation will increase. The higher the circ, the higher the ad rates. That should mean more revenue, if you do it right. If.


6. Parent companies must diversify in news, non-news and non-publications areas.

NEWS: I’m thinking specifically, exploit the web. Create websites with news and articles for NATIONAL niche audiences. Stop thinking in local terms when you think about the Internet. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE. News, showbiz news, sports news, financial news, weird news, tech news, shopping news, food news . . . each topic could have a daily-updated website, like Slate or Salon, and the pioneering news company that created this pantheon of sites (hint, hint, Media General) would be extremely well-positioned when the bottom finally drops out of the print news business within the next ten years.

And it will.

NON-NEWS: Websites with features and information, rather than just news. Game sites; opinion sites; cartoon sites. Even — now, think about the damn revenue alone, okay? — porn sites. (Time-Warner-AOL offers it in America’s hotel rooms. Should MG or any other intermeganationalcongloporation be different? Holier than thou?)

NON-PUBLICATIONS: Newspaper corporations traditionally offer news and information. What’s missing from that formula? Entertainment. Create Web content and television and YouTube and iPhone and iTunes content that is fun. Build a commercial audience. Think beyond news and think about what people want.

7. Look at basic cable.

This is my last point (thank you, I can hear the grateful sighs of relief from here). When the bottom drops out, and it will, only a handful of big newspaper companies will have the resources to create a national presence of any kind. The New York Times Co., yes. AP, yes — but they won’t. They are traditionalists who follow the rules instead of making them. Media General? Why, yes. What I’m suggesting is consider that “news” — quality news — cannot die with the slow death of newspapers.

What could, oh, say, a Media General do?

Online outlets — and outlets in whatever the next big thing will be — will need resources for news. When the news corps die, only a few will be left standing, and I predict they will all vie for dominance, offering their services to online outlets in much the same way as basic cable works today. Comcast will choose Media General; Time Warner will run with the AP; the Internet providers will pay for the news services, and then pass the costs on to the consumer. It will be only pennies, in the long run, to each consumer, so it’s just a raise in “basic cable,” if you will, and there will be little outcry. But it’s serious revenue for the news corps that make it that far. And Richmond’s own Media General is ideally situated, with all their sources of news. If they were to start thinking now, placing reporters and mini-bureaus in each state, even internationally, creating a digital infrastructure that would be able to report and publish on all their various and newly-created websites . . .

But this is all conjecture, though, isn’t it? Not a damn thing is going to happen until the bowtie-wearing dinosaurs in the newspapers across the country finally pull their fat asses off the toilet, throw the paper on the bathroom floor, look around and say, “Something’s got to be done.”

But will something be done? Let me close with this story. About five years ago, I was asked to be on a task force at the RTD. We had a list of questions to answer — each task force would pick one. As I remember it, we ended up with the question no one wanted . . . and I jumped at it. I will paraphrase, for my exact memory is fifty years worth of faulty: What can we as a newspaper do to increase circulation and advertising revenue . . . without changing anything that we are currently doing?

I laughed, and then we got to work. And our conclusions were much what you’d expect. If you’re doing almost everything wrong, you can’t expect to succeed without change.

Once the report was turned in, I asked one of the directors at the RTD, a friend, what was happening with it. I did this once a week, I think. Over a month later, she finally admitted to me, “You may as well stop asking. They didn’t like it. It’s quashed.”

So . . .

Will something be done?


Thanks for bearing with me so far. Now, please let me ask you a favor. No, I’m not asking for donations through PayPal. I’ll never do that. I blog for myself and I do not beg. BUT . . . If you enjoyed the posts about newspapers (and believe me, I’ll continue them), if you were entertained or intrigued at all; if you think I have any skill as a writer (or even as a chimp who can type), I ask that if you have a line on any jobs in media, marketing, advertising or writing, please pass the information on to me. I’ve needed a job since before Christmas; but more importantly I also have a bunch of skilled and talented friends in the communications fields who need jobs, too. We were all fired or laid off from the Times-Dispatch — we did our jobs very well, and we all kick ass. Send me an email and I’ll send you some resumes, including mine.

Thanks everybody.