Newspaper Tales in Three Cities

The Boston Globe Newspaper Guild, the largest union for that storied newspaper, rejected a contract proposal from the New York Times Company to agree to wage concessions and an end to lifetime employment guarantees.  Smaller unions had largely accepted the proposal in an effort to save the Globe.  This sets up an escalating confrontation between TNYT and the union in Bean Town.

Meanwhile, up I-95 in Portland, Maine a different scenario is playing out.  There the Maine Newspaper Guild cut a deal agreeing to wage concessions to keep the newspaper going but received an equity stake in the business to better align the interests of all the parties.

One more example, this time from the left coast in San Diego, where a scrappy upstart, the San Diego News Network (SDNN) seeks to kick sand in the face of the failing Union-Leader and its online attempt SignOnSanDiego.com with the type of community journalism meeting high tech business model I discussed in an earlier posting.  SDNN is the brainchild of Ron James, who was a key player at the Union-Leader and largely created its online presence only to be thrown under the bus.  Not ready to give up, SDNN seeks to capture the bzzzz in San Diego’s community segments and tie it together with a fresh online presence partnering with area businesses that want or need access to segments for both content and advertising.

From Crisis comes Opportunity

Three cities, three examples of vastly different approaches to solving the underlying problem of legacy costs now too high to make a profit as advertising revenue decline.

Theme Song from Rocky, the Underdog, in my head. Good faith efforts like those underway in Maine may buy time and make enough cost reductions to work through the problems, but they don’t change the underlying economics.  Nonetheless, a smaller, leaner, committed business with strong local support and less mass media competition has the opportunity for a long tail if it can bring revenues in line with costs.  Let’s cheer for them as they run up those steps in search of a happy ending.

Crowdsourcing the Future. San Diego is a major market and the vacuum created by the decline of the Union Leader opens the door for something new.  That the parties involved in SDNN are many of the same faces that appeared to be struggling to change the Union Leader from the inside gives them insight as to the markets and the weaknesses of the UL and its online offspring to engage in competitive blood sport for market leadership.  The thing to watch is whether the community hyper-market model of SDNN with few paid staff and lots of labor-of-love journalists in the neighborhoods and community segments can pull together a sustainable product that is profitable.  We need this kind of experimentation to test these new business models.  Check out: http://www.sdnn.com/

Racing for Last Place. The Boston Globe and its parent The New York Times seem fated.  Both management and employees are reading too many of their own morgue stories about how great they are, how powerful they are, how important they are to the life of the community that they have failed to see that the community is moving on beyond them.  Once great institutions living on life support who are too caught up in their history to see their future.  It is the stuff of Greek tragedies but this is not a play—its business.