Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to save the Washington Post or any newspaper for that matter

I have been very interested in media and how to revive the dying industry of newspapers. I do believe newspapers have a tremendous amount to offer over the internet as I wrote here.

I've been reading a couple really good blogs that talk about the issue of how new media is disastrous for old media and such. The first is Andrew Keen who wrote the book Cult of the Amutuer. The second is by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who has a lot of good insight into technology.

Nonetheless, I keep reading a lot of articles about how much trouble the Washington Post is in. A lot of these articles are written by writers of the Washington Post themselves commenting on how much peril newspapers are in in their paid sections. People are being laid off multiple times every year and I read columns by editors saying "I'm sorry to go because I accepted the buyout package."

Here's how I recommend it be saved:
1. Don't fire columnists who have built a following. Consider those people insispensable when making layoffs. I liked the "Magazine Reader" for example and I'm not sure if there are other examples I can remember offhand of columnists I was familiar with accepting a buyout and leaving, but that's certainly big. In fact, have your columnists appear in public more (like the Post Hunt) so they can be more recognizable and be personalities that people are invested in (an example of this is Michael Wilbon from PTI)

2. Become non-profit and accept donations or just accept donations period. You've pleaded your case with your readers quite gallantly in the newspaper with this string of articles about how newspapers are dying. I think people are starting to get the point that at 75 cents an issue and pretty much all of it online for free, that the newspaper can't keep running as is and plenty of people are invested in saving it. If you haven't made the point, keep making the point more. Let the public know that if they like this institution they'll have to support it.

Or better yet....
3. Find things for them to pay for and remind them that your purchase helps keep the paper alive. Only allow online discussions for subscribers and if they're not subscribing, charge for them: ESPN the magazine does it and it works. Just as people will pay for concerts because they wish to see and interact with artists, do the same thing. Charge an admission fee for the Post Race. Charge to get a file out of the archives. There are plenty of newspapers like the Virginian-Pilot in Eastern Virginia have done this. Economic incentive plus a little bit of the feeling that you're making that purchase for altruistic reasons is a good combo.

4. Be unapologetic when you are making money. A dinner recently got cancelled that would have connected lobbyists to power players in Washington. I might be naive (and this is something I will admit, I'm entirely uneducated on and wouldn't mind being corrected on if I'm wrong) but as far as unethical things go, that wasn't so bad. I think that your critics just have to realize you're on life support.

5. Lobby for stimulus money. Newspapers are one of THE most-troubled and necessary industries today and if cars and banks can get the stimulus money, why can't you?

In my view...


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