Coping in a blizzard of discontent

The headline on Fortune magazine’s Dec. 8, 2008, issue states the matter plainly. “GM: Death of an American Dream, How General Motors got it so wrong for so long. A corporate memoir.”

As many in the newspaper industry look around the corner into a bleak 2009, they are wondering iwhether their industry’s dream may be ending as well. Newspapers are closing, ending or limiting print editions in favor of less costly digital journalism, outsourcing production jobs, and praying to the journalism gods for a little guidance.

In a New York Times column this week, authors David Swensen and Michael Schmidt suggest newspapers transform themeselves into nonprofit entities funded largely by endowments. This could remove the financial pressures from a mass media that is valuable to the democratic process yet depends on an outmoded business model, they argue.

Sound good? Well wait just a minute. One day later, the New York Times’ Richard Perez-Pena reported that The St. Petersburg Times, owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, was suffering from financial pressures and losing money. As a result, the parent nonprofit was putting Congressional Quarterly and its associated publications up for sale.

That seems more like a Band-Aid than a solution.

In reality, as this snowy January draws to a close, the blizzard of bad news for America’s newspapers is smothering the industry. The poor economy, newspapers’ poor business model and more are preventing the industry from shoveling itself out of this mess.

Before the industry is snuffed out, perhaps Washington will relax the onerous and outdated restrictions on media ownership and allow a corporation to operate a newspaper and television station in the same market. The nation could then enjoy true multimedia entities that use print, television and digital platforms to report the news the public is so eager to consume.

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