There’s been lots of discussion pro and con about the recent commentary in Editor & Publisher by Tom Mohr, a former executive with Knight-Ridder (which was on the auction block not too long ago), an opinion piece he terms a “manifesto” for the future of newspapers online. Mr. Mohr (who Matt Marshall says is now an advisor to Charles River Ventures) says in his opening paragraph: “Newspapers must win online, or face a future of painful contraction.”
As blogger Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses notes, this statement isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who has been following the newspaper business for awhile (Ethan posted his own manifesto of sorts, which I think has a lot of merit, last year). Still, it is worth echoing the point, if only to try and alert the media frogs to the rapidly boiling pot of water they are currently sitting in (Don Dodge has some thoughts about newspapers, magazines and the online future here).
I have no issue with Mr. Mohr’s general take on things, or with his statement that “newspapersâ€™ social purpose â€” the building of civil society in cities and towns across America through the daily output of good journalism â€” is worth fighting for.” And I think most of his central points hold, although I would argue that local might just be defensible, if done properly (admittedly a big “if”). Where I part company with him is in his proposed solution, a kind of Switzerland Inc. partnership of major newspapers to share an online platform/strategy.
He describes it thus:
Producer tools, ad positions, measurement tools and metrics, ad serving infrastructures and classified marketplace solutions would all be standardized. There would be one ad network for national advertising. And business development, shared content management and channel services in channels like travel, business and technology would all be centralized.
Underneath the hood, the platforms would be built on a common, massively scaleable infrastructure to allow efficient addition of markets. A Switzerland Inc. would manage both the technology and the network, with all the inherent relationships involved.
I can see the appeal in such a strategy — share the platform and/or a common standard for ads, etc., and thereby make it easier for advertisers to make online buys. I just don’t think it will work. Newspapers can’t even agree on how to measure actual physical newspaper circulation and other easily quantifiable metrics. How could they possibly agree on online standards and/or measurement? I don’t see it happening in my lifetime. My friend Stowe Boyd has some thoughts on the manifesto too.