Roll over, Beethoven

I was with David Carr until he got to the classical music critic.

Using Circuit City’s ill-fated decision to get rid of its veteran clerks as a metaphor, Carr laments newspapers getting rid of their experienced talent. Kicks to my groin aside, I’ve also lamented that. I’ve argued that when newspapers offer buyouts – and when it’s often the best and the most experienced who choose, often wisely, to take them – they should at least offer to help set up these journalists as independent agents with blogs and ad networks (which I’m seeing happen in one market; more on that later). But I’ve also argued that newspapers must focus on their key value and can no longer afford ego and commodified news.

So when Carr takes on the Tampa Tribune for laying off its editorial page editor, a columnist, the movie critic, and the classical music critic, he loses me. Of course – regardless of what the groin-kickers say – I have sympathy for those jobless journalists, just as I will for the GM SUV assembly-line workers sure to lose their work and even a few of the Lehman Brothers veterans.

But if newspapers are to survive as news organizations, they must focus on their key value and fast. And the key value of a local newspaper is, on its face, local reporting. Says Carr:

But there is a business argument to be made here. Having missed the implications of the Web and allowed both their content and their audience to be scraped away by aggregators and ad networks, newspapers are now working furiously to maintain audience, build new ad models and renovate presentation. But they won’t stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve.

Well, my first quibble is that aggregators are sending them traffic and ad networks are sending them revenue, if they want. My second is that movie reviews are pretty much generic content unless your name is Ebert.

I’ve argued that newspapers should have spent these last five years retraining all these people to take on new-media skills, inventing and promoting new products, and focusing intensively on local value. Then, perhaps, they might have been in control of their fates. They didn’t. Now they’re in a crisis.

When a bunch of newspaper executives gathered last week – behind closed doors – to recognize their crisis, they said the might get together again in six months. Steve Outing asks whether they have six months.