By Steve Outing
You usually don’t have to look too far to see an outrageously backward suggestion for “saving newspapers.” This weekend’s most ridiculous opinion column on the topic without a doubt would be Tim Rutten’s, writing for the Los Angeles Times: “Setting the price of a free press.”
Here’s a taste of Rutten’s nonsense:
“Congress needs to move quickly to grant the newspaper industry at least a temporary exemption from antitrust and price-fixing laws so that publishers and proprietors can, in essence, collude for survival.”
He’s joking, right? U.S. newspapers, many with a history of profit margins in the 20-30% range for many years, suddenly should be allowed to collude because they’ve had a rough couple years? That’s outrageous. The marketplace and disruptive technologies are forcing newspapers to change or die. So they have to change, reinvent themselves for the digital age. Let’s keep government out of this, unless it’s in more useful ways such as supporting the expansion of broadband to all, giving media players large and small a level playing field.
Rutten appears to be among the industry curmudgeons who believe that only newspapers have the “right stuff” to provide the quality and quantity of serious journalism to safeguard democracy. He apparently hasn’t noticed that a new news ecosystem is forming as a result of newspapers’ failure to adapt and continued layoffs and cost-cutting.
I need to write my monthly Editor & Publisher Online column this weekend, and I’ll cover some more positive ideas for maintaining quality journalism during this period of rough transition from old media to new. Metro newspapers can be part of the transition and benefit from it, or listen to voices like Rutten’s and dig themselves an even deeper hole.