Thursday, November 09, 2006

The future of The Herald and the newspaper business.

I received an email from reader with a suggestion that I thought I'd throw out there.

...the possible purchase of the Herald by local interests, possibly in combination with one or more private equity groups.

With the Tribune Company and Sun-Times Media Group in play, Dow Jones selling off six community newspapers of $282 million and the successful IPO of GateHouse Media, the financial markets are displaying a sharp interest in media properties.

The McClatchy folks would be forgiven for quickly changing their minds about the suitability of the Herald within their portfolio. It is clearly the odd duck in their family of publications.

And the Herald needs the tender attention of an ownership group better able to manage the intense quirkiness of the South Florida market...something best (and perhaps ONLY) done from a local perspective.
Alesh at Critical Miami has some thoughts on the ownership issue:
[Michael] Kinsley suggests that local ownership of newspapers would go a long way toward avoiding situations like this [staff cuts at the L.A. Times, ordered by The Tribune Company, its parent company], but in a world where large holding companies make offers on devalued properties, a local interest has no guarantee of being able to hold on to a newspaper trying to navigate through the stormy waters the industry is in. I’ve suggested considering non-profit ownership of newspapers in the past. Non-profits are much more likely to resist buyout offers, and their structure is, at least in theory, more in line with newspapers’ stated goal of working for the public good. (The only two newspapers I know of that are non-profit are the St. Petersburg Times and the Christian Science Monitor.)
Unrelated to ownership, but certainly important to the future of the newspaper business is the Internet. Alesh goes on to say:
...newspapers should try to take part in the larger online conversation. I would argue that an important part of that is dropping this bullshit about paid archives. I don’t know how much the Herald is making from their archives, but I expect it’s minimal: nobody’s going to pay $2.95 for an old article unless they really, really need to. On the other hand, old articles can be very useful if they’re free, open, and searchable. Again, I don’t know how much ad revenue the Herald averages per article impression, but it strikes me as self-evident that the finances for open archives work out a lot better then for closed.

Putting old stuff behind a paywall not only doesn’t make business sense, though—much more importantly, it belies a lack of understanding of how the internet really works. Links that expire do not exactly encourage linking.
So what says the peanut gallery? I don't think McClatchy would be willing to abandon The Herald so quickly, but if it continues to lose circulation at the current rate, they might reconsider. Local ownership combined with a non-profit structure might be the only way your run of the mill local papers like The Herald will survive into the long-term future.


Manuel A. Tellechea said...

Well, Oscar Corral's byline finally returns to The Miami Herald. It appears that Oscar requires a long-period of hibernation between stories, even if, the final product, always seems incomplete and slipshod. Is his time in "the underground" really spent sleeping? Well, yes, sleeping and nursing grudges. Now he's back to the "old grind," which for him consists of sneaking into and out of the Herald building without making contact with any of the dozens of uncollegial colleagues who hate his guts and make no secret of it.

Corral's latest story—which was doubtless the most parsed in Miami Herald history—manages still to throw another bomb into our much harried community. This time his target is not those who disseminate the truth from this side of the Florida Straits, which is, after all, a relatively easy thing (at least until he came along); but those who, at the cost of their own lives, dare to defy Castro's reign of terror to show their countrymen the way to dignity and freedom.

Dissidents in the former Eastern bloc, including Solidarity and every other organization hostile to Soviet rule, were financially underwritten by the West. It could not be otherwise since the first thing that a Communist regime does to suppress the opposition is to deny it the means to support itself. It accomplishes this by firing dissidents and their family members from their state jobs (all jobs in Cuba are "state jobs"), effectively denying them the opportunity to eat even the offal which is available to the rest of the Cuban populace, and making their lives impossible in every other way. Then comes the open persecution, which lands the dissidents in Castro's dungeons and leaves their dependents destitute. Such is the price that one pays for championing freedom and human rights in Communist Cuba.

And we are to deny these heroic people our support, and, in effect, help to starve them into compliance, as we already persecute and abuse those who dare to commit the ultimate act of defiance by fleeing to these ertswhile shores of freedom?

Yes, no doubt some money is squandered; a relative pittance when compared to the great object before us, which is no less than the resurrection of an entire people. But billions (not millions)were "squandered" in undermining and ultimately defeating the Soviet Union, and it was the best money that the U.S. ever spent.

This is, after all, the government that builds bridges to nowhere and 700-mile walls to separate it from friendly countries.

Wasting money?

There is enough pork in the federal budget to underwrite one-million times the pittance which the U.S. distributes as alms to Cuban dissidents.

heraldphobe said...

Well, the Herald is apparently very OK with retaining Corral's services, such as they are, and I think that's significant. In other words, it shows no sign of embarrassment or shame over Corral's very slipshod job in his previous "big" story of 9/8. Looks like he didn't even get his hand slapped, though I'm sure this time the editing was far more careful. I guess the Herald figures he didn't really do anything wrong before.

It's now very important to see what happens regarding what David Landsberg promised Pablo Alfonso over a month ago (Landsberg asked to be given "some weeks" to do it). The matter is detailed in a published letter by Alfonso, posted here in translation on 10/8. If nothing happens by the end of the year, Landsberg and the Herald definitely need to be called on it in no uncertain terms. It ain't over till the fat lady sings, and the Herald has yet to hit the right note on this affair.