Local Newspapers Fight To Survive, But Are They Going About It The Right Way?

philadelphia.pngThis weekend, while reading Michael Sokolove’s New York Times Magazine story about Philadelphia and its troubled newspapers, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer, we couldn’t help but thinking about the role that blogs are now playing in the journalistic conversation.

According to Sokolove: “Newspapers remain the primary source of news-gathering in America. And unlike so many Internet ‘sites,’ they are firmly grounded in a geographical place. To read a newspaper is to know what town you’re in.”

Is that still true? Local news Web sites are popping up all over the place and some, like NewJerseyNewsroom.com, are even created by former local newspapers employees who have been recently let go.

Even Sokolove himself admits the newspapers’ weaknesses:

“There is every reason to believe that the big, grab-bag metro daily that mixes its news in with comics, advice columns, obituaries and recipes, and undertakes an expensive manufacturing and delivery operation each day to put the product on the street, will pass into history. Among the problems faced by [Philadelphia papers’ owner Brian Tierney] and other publishers is that many of the big thinkers on the periphery of their industry — academics, Web entrepreneurs, former journalists with the wisdom of hindsight — have already moved on. They’re done with paper, ink, trucks, fuel, the whole era.”

But here’s the root of the problem: while the journalism is still just as strong and effective, and just as necessary, the “pipeline that sends money back to where the content is created,” is (possibly irreparably) broken. That’s the rub, isn’t it? Tierney thinks the problem can be remedied by charging for online content. “People who say that all this content wants to be free aren’t paying talented people to create it,” Tierney said.

Is that an idea whose time has come? Rupert Murdoch seems to think so. But it will probably take more than that to right the sinking ship of the newspaper business. The crisis in our industry requires a new way of thinking, a new way of approaching news gathering and news reporting, along with new ways of presenting stories and integrating content through blogs and social networking sites. Until newspapers learn how to do all that, they won’t be able to solve their problems, and they’ll continue to suffer and — sadly — disappear.

In his response to Sokolove’s article, Stowe Boyd said the crisis in newspapers has resulted in “the vertical supply chain of newspapers being blown apart into horizontal focus areas. That’s why the most interesting journalism start-ups are focused on one area, like politics, sports, or social change.” Boyd doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. Why do so many members of traditional media think that it is?

“I am a fan of local news, but that is not the sole focus of big city newspapers,” Boyd concludes. “They print car reviews, movie reviews, and stories about pirates in Somalia, none of which are local. They are a blur of things, and no one has ever tried to unblur them, really.”

That’s an idea whose time has come: unblur, define, add value. Do you know of any publications or Web sites that are doing just that?