How to save your local newspaper

By STEVEN STARK  |  February 12, 2009

5)Provide a literate alternative to the Internet. Here the model is the English Guardian's G2 section or the Globe's Ideas section on Sunday. Give the readers a short daily magazine, with a sassy article or two that helps set the agenda and gets people talking. This could bolster or even replace the op-ed page, which, frankly, has lost much of its utility. (Isn't the Internet just one big op-ed page?)

6)Having done steps one through five, charge a Web fee. In retrospect, one of the biggest mistakes newspapers ever made was giving their product away for free on the Internet. Somehow, that decision has to be rescinded to make things work.

Can local papers charge something for what they're offering now on the Web? Well, yeah — but not much. But let's say local papers beef up their sports sections, as suggested. Would there be an audience willing to pay more for that? Quite likely, particularly in sports-mad towns. And there might be some incentive for individual papers along the line to develop types of expertise they could sell — say, rugby for one paper or international news in India and Pakistan for another, and so on.

Will this work? Well, the truth is nothing is going to work immediately in the midst of a financial crisis. But once that begins to recede, the model outlined above at least gives newspapers a 21st-century model for which they can strive.

Right now, newspapers are in a horrible downward cycle of mindless cuts, which produces mindless journalism. Even if they manage to survive at the end of all of this, what difference will it make if no one wants to read them?

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