Monday, December 8, 2008

This can't be good for the Courant or Connecticut

(Fuck you too, Sam)

You've likely already heard that the Tribune Company is interviewing bankruptcy lawyers to help the fabulously overrated Sam Zell get out of a fix.

Of course bankruptcy does not mean that Tribune papers will necessarily slip below the surface and drown, but it could mean that some sub-producing properties might disappear, and other more valuable properties might be spun-off and sold.

What's it mean for the Courant? Hard to tell from the outside, but in general, it's not a great season for dailies in Connecticut, especially for one which has just reinvented itself into something that resembles a newspaper, but is not quite one.

The Courant's own Kevin Rennie, just yesterday, published a reasoned argument why state support of a news organization is a bad idea.

I think it's a bad idea too. Not because I don't like newspapers. I do. I want a hunk of pulp and ink in my hands every morning.

But corporate publishers have leveraged many newspapers, The Hartford Courant among them, into a situation that is totally akin to homeowners who have subprime mortgages which have turned completely upside down.

The debt is destroying these dailies at a time when other forces have already made an effective run at legacy dailies.

I don't want my tax dollars poured into an antiquated, over-leveraged, outmoded company whether it's a behemoth automaker which hasn't had the courage to look to the future to reinvent transportation, or a humble daily with dented furniture, and high-speed presses.

Who, in their right mind, would pay good money for something they could create themselves.

Message to my friends at the Courant, the Herald and the Bristol Press: don't buy the company, remake it yourselves. You are the most important assest the papers have. Why buy yourselves from someone else? It's kind of a demented servitude.

You don' t need the buildings, or the printing presses, or the executive salaries.

All you need is you. Good writers, good editors, good photographers, good designers, a couple of crack ad salespeople, some administrative staff to compile online classifieds and collect obits, a fast-computer for eveyone, and a server. Voila. You've got yourself a new newspaper, without the baggage. (And for the folks in Hartford, I even have a name, how about The Hartford Times?)

And if once a week you've got to print a wrapper for advertising circulars, so be it - you can contract that out.

You've got the skills; you've got the sources; you've got the reputation; you've got the institutional memory; and one would think, you've got the motivation, considering the circumstances.

Hell, it doesn't even take much more money than the lot of you could pony up.

Sure it's a scary leap at a doubly scary moment in history, but the alternative is to wait for the inevitable collapse. And it is inevitable.

A year ago, a friend told me that the Hartford Courant netted $40 million, but that most of that went to pay the Trib's debt service.

At a fraction of that, you could make a new, high-journalistic quality, frequently-visited, web paper. Look what Paul Bass has done in New Haven. Look what Naomi Klein says about seizing the opportunity to change at times of "shock" (there's a bit of a leap needed here since Klein mostly talks about governance and politics, but the analogy to re-creating journalism is an easy one to make).

To be fair, I know this has been an ongoing discussion over beers and burgers, but opportunity doesn't knock twice.

Believe me, you are the most able to make this happen, and if you don't do it, someone else surely will.

And besides, we need you.

UPDATE: The Tribune has filed for bankruptcy.


Anonymous said...

Now I understand, it's not a "news"paper, it does not exist to help the citizenry understand the various issues in their communities and the greater world or teach them about the world of politics,nothing like that. It's about generating revenue.
Now, most of us have known that a long time so it's good to know that the billionaire owner of the Tribune Corp. doesn't equate integrity with the bottom line (ever.)

Jeff Hobbs said...

Yeah, good luck with all that. I'm not sure there's even a market for that ad wrapper anymore. And if you rely on online ad revenue alone you're on the fast track to epic fail in no time at all.

Anonymous said...

Let me be the fool but the state or CDA should offer loans for the purchase of newspapers. Your grand idea of starting from scratch is fine if you have the time and assets to startup a newspaper business. By the time this fine country gets back in its feet again the assets necessary to run successful businesses will be gone and american manufacturing industry will not longer exist. Let's support the existing companies that will be owned and operated by america.

Steve Collins said...

As best I can tell, there is no online paper in America that's paying its own bills. They exist on grants.
And while I respect what Paul Bass is doing, it's hardly a newspaper. If it were in print, it would be embarassingly thin.

Ed McKeon said...

It depends on what you mean by "online paper" and "paying its own bills."

Surely, The New Haven Independent is only one of several non-profit models of new media, online papers. Some like the VoiceofSanDiego and the MinnPost, sell ads. The St Louis Beacon follows a similar non-profit model but doesn't. They all employ reporters, and are considered excellent news sites. VoiceofSanDiego has won some impressive journalism awards already. In fact the Pulitzers just decided that they would extend awards to online-only news sources.

As far as city, state or regional news blogs which make revenue on ads only, I've got to do some more research. But national news and opinion blogs like Huffington Post lead me to believe that an ad-based online "paper" is possible.