Desperate times need desperate models

One could make a blog with nothing but daily reports of bad news about newspapers.

One could make another blog with suggestions for drastic measures that should be taken — even if as experiments — at every newspaper company in the country.

The latest bad news is word that Journal Register, publisher of the New Haven Register and 21 other daily and 310 nondaily newspapers, could go bankrupt. The article argues that this is more a problem of debt service than operations — but then it goes on to say that “its operating performance has declined” with EBITDA expected to fall from $90 million to $70 million in a year.

If I can get some money into a program at CUNY — and as part of a conference on new business models for news I’m holding there, probably now in September — I’m thinking about hiring MBAs to create drastic models of new newspaper businesses, such as:
* The free newspaper — here’s an argument that the Guardian should go that way.
* The online-only newspaper — that has happened in Madison.
* Selling off printing, production, and distribution arms — as suggested by Dave Morgan.
* Break them up into a bunch of niche products — as suggested by NewMediaBytes. That could mean selling the sports section separately (or making it online-only); it could mean turning out a whole bunch of products from golf to parenting to food.
* Go hyperlocal.
* Turn all the reporters into independent agents — as I sort of suggested here — and the newsroom and news product into just a packager and ad network.
* Jettison everything but real reporting — which is a smaller proportion of an editorial budget than many would like to admit — and charge more for the product to a highly interested audience.
* Distribute a local supplement inside national papers: USA Today, The Times, or the Journal.
* Become a local magazine with an online component covering breaking news, local calendars, and such. (Except I think that local magazines are in as much trouble as local newspapers.)
* Become an ad network.

What else? Note that I did not suggest foundation or public support. I think that’s a pipedream. Journalism either is or isn’t a business. I think it is, but not like the one we have now. And we’d better get to reinventing it or it could well die. The Journal Register could just be the first.

Whoop. Whoop. Whoop. That’s the alarm going off, newspaperfolk.

: LATER: Note that the Britannica blog is holding a forum this week on the fate of newspapers. I’m looking forward to Clay Shirky’s call for experimentation.