Dailies go Darwin

By ADAM REILLY  |  January 29, 2009

RISE OF THE MEDIA MUTANTS
The steady stream of buyouts and layoffs still haven't solved most papers' financial woes — but they have created an opening for new entities that can provide the sort of coverage papers can no longer generate themselves. Foreign-news startup GlobalPost is one example; the investigative-reporting startup ProPublica is another. But there's room for plenty more.

Case in point: what if six or seven experienced political journalists rented an office in Washington, DC — and offered to do localized political reporting for, say, every daily in the state of California? Given the ongoing evisceration of the DC press corps, these hypothetical entrepreneurs would likely do a brisk business. So, too, could any other outfit that went about intelligently covering a niche subject neglected for lack for funds. But nascent startups have to act fast, before content-sharing ventures involving legacy media (e.g., the just-announced Washington PostBaltimore Sun arrangement) do their work for them.

LET A THOUSAND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST BLOOM
Think Sam Zell owning Tribune Co. is a bad idea? Spooked by Rupert Murdoch's abiding interest in the New York Times Co.? Then you probably see the developing story in Miami — where the real-estate-developer/sugar-magnate tandem of Jorge Perez and Alfonso Fanjul just might buy the Miami Herald from McClatchy — as a journalistic nightmare. But get used to this sort of thing: with newspaper companies struggling mightily (McClatchy, the Herald's corporate parent, saw its stock drop 95 percent this past year), some big-name papers are going to end up in the hands of people whose business interests should, in theory, be covered by their new toys.

THE NONPROFIT PULL
Not all ownership changes will be as problematic as the one looming in Miami, however. "I believe the brightest future, over the next few years, is going to belong to nonprofit journalism of one form or another," said my former Phoenix colleague Dan Kennedy, now an assistant journalism professor at Northeastern University and the author of the Media Nation blog (medianation.blogspot.com). (The aforementioned ProPublica is one example.)

The problem, Kennedy noted, is that even the deepest-pocketed nonprofits are hurting in the current economic environment. Still, at a moment when an established paper like the Rocky Mountain News might simply close if a buyer isn't found, nonprofits interested in running a newspaper as a civic trust — à la the Poynter Institute–owned St. Petersburg Times — will have a chance to do so at bargain-basement prices.

STOPPING THE PRESSES
As the Web becomes the primary vehicle for reporting and analysis — and the preferred destination for news consumers — the relationship between Web and print will undergo an extreme makeover. Some papers (e.g., the Monitor's new weekly edition) will become condensed digests of news and analysis; others will morph into glorified ads for their Web sites. Meanwhile, count on several "papers" going online only in '09.

WORTH THE AGGREGATION?
This past year, the Globe and its online sibling boston.com rolled out a new, hyperlocal site serving the affluent suburb of Newton. Go there, and you'll get some original reporting; some links to stories from other news organizations (especially GateHouse Media, which publishes suburban weeklies and Web sites throughout Massachusetts); and some links to local bloggers. Two more "Your Town" sites have now been rolled out; the plan, according to boston.com bigwig Bob Kempf, is to push that number to a whopping 120(!).

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