Halfway ’round the track

The Orlando Sentinel and Tribune Company went halfway around the track in the right direction — but not far enough — when they decided to stop devoting staff to national coverage of Nascar races, putting their priority and dwindling resources instead on local, which I believe is where they should be. As a result, they lost their Nascar writer, Ed Hinton, who they boast is the best in the nation. And they wish him well.

What I think they should have done instead is set up Hinton in business. If Hinton’s the best — and I take them at their word on that, not being a Nascar kinda guy — then I’d have proposed creating a blog and site for him and selling ads into it and syndicating content onto my newspaper sites where I’d also sell ads and share revenue there, too (the Glam model). Then I’d still have the benefit of his best-of-breed coverage — doing what I did best while linking to the rest — with less expense — none, really, because I’m just sharing revenue for sold advertising. It’s only upside for the paper. And in the long run, it’s upside for Ed because, as the best in the nation, he should be able to market himself freely with many such deals and build up the best damned Nascar blog anywhere, something he now owns and controls. There’s more risk for Ed but, hell, he’s now unemployed anyway. But he also takes with him a brand the papers helped him build.

That’s the relationship I think that UK football writer Rick Waghorn should have with the paper that made him redundant. That’s the relationship the New York Daily News could have with David Bianculli, the TV critic they laid off who now has his own site (they may not want to pay for him as full-time headcount anymore but they could sell ads for him and he needs that help since I see none on his site).

The funny thing is that some papers are reaching this relationship, not with their own former staffers, but with outsiders instead. The Washington Post and CBSNews.com are syndicating my Prezvid. The New York Times reached a similar arrangement with Freakonomics. But I don’t see this happening with the people these papers know best: their own staffers.

So why doesn’t a paper get ahead of the curve and offer such a deal to its stars, the ones worth the investment? In the old days, the paper thought of itself as a product whose value was its brand and distribution. And there’s still value there. But now that papers are hiving off valued contributors and features like Ed Hinton, they don’t need to just do without. They can think like networks and imagine a new relationship with those stars that’s beneficial for both.

The next time a paper plans buyouts and layoffs — and they will keep coming without end — I suggest they offer another kind of deal: helping these former employees set up their own new businesses with a content and advertising network relationship.