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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Probably do things differently if we bought another newspaper

My old friend Marc Goldberg, whom I've known since the fifth grade, called last night after reading my facebook post that I was leaving the Kuna Melba News. He called to congratulate me and to catch up. He had missed my post in December when I announced that Nicola and I had sold the newspaper. He asked me whether we would buy another newspaper again. I gave him an honest answer.
First, I love newspapers and couldn't imagine doing any other job, other than writing books. If I do re-enter the "real" work force, I probably would go back into newspapers. Second, I have loved owning a newspaper. I have loved making all the decisions, changing course quickly when needed, taking calculated risks, testing things out. So, yes, I could see buying another newspaper — with one caveat.
I don't think we would have Nicola work at the paper, as well. Not that it was a bad experience. But moving forward, I think it would be best if it were just me working at the paper while Nicola had another job elsewhere.
Here's why.
I still deeply and firmly believe in newspapers, how important they are, the mission they serve, but I am less confident in readers' desire to read newspapers. I don't think newspapers will go away for a long time. There will always be a segment of the population that recognizes the importance of newspapers and appreciates how a physical printed newspaper functions. (I still believe a printed newspaper is an extremely effective and convenient way to deliver the day's most important news and information, whether it's national news, local news, sports scores, things to do, whatever.)
However, the American public's appetite for printed newspapers is diminishing, for a variety of reasons that I could go into in nauseating detail (but I won't).
That said, having both me and Nicola working at a newspaper together essentially puts all of our eggs in one basket, relying on the newspaper to pay for our health insurance, our taxes, our salaries, our mortgage, our groceries, everything. That's a lot of pressure to grow the business in an industry that's not necessarily poised for growth.
If Nicola were to work at another job, that would take off some of the pressure to keep growing the business.


  1. Do you think community newspapers have a future online? Or is the way people consume community news not suited to people's online behaviour?

  2. Paul, the problem is that you don't make nearly as much revenue from online advertising. Advertisers are not willing to spend as much money on an online ad as on a print ad. At best, a good newspaper company makes 20 percent of its revenue online. Imagine moving to a business model in which your revenue is cut 80 percent.

  3. One solution might be to make the physical newspaper a high-end, high-quality medium, emulating what musicians have done with vinyl.

    Also, I think community weeklies (or monthlies) have a brighter future than dailies, because you can get news through them that you simply cannot find online.

    Living in San Francisco, I almost never buy a Chron, but I pick up a SF Bay Guardian or a Potrero View every time it comes out.

    1. I would argue that newspapers already are a high-quality medium, but I get your point.
      I think the solution is the use of pay walls to generate a second revenue stream. Newspapers shouldn't hide their content and make it less convenient for their readers by keeping information offline. But newspapers have to make it profitable to deliver that content. I think we're going to see more and more pay walls go up in the next couple of years.