Follow the money; don’t run from it!

As if we didn’t have enough troubled 501(c)(3) status outfits in northern California and elsewhere, along comes a U.S. Senator from Maryland proposing that newspapers be allowed to operate as nonprofits.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s “modest proposal” comes as half a dozen media outlets have filed for bankruptcy, including the Baltimore Sun’s owner Tribune Co., often under the weight of too much acquisition debt.

“Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns,” according to the Newspaper Preservation Act. “Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible.”

Thanks but no thanks. Let the market forces work this one out.

As I blogged the other day, the business model of the newspaper industry is broken, just as it is with autos.

This type of government “bailout” won’t change the crux of the problem: management’s inability to reverse the decline in print revenue, coupled with its inability to “monetize” Web content – a true “lose, lose” proposition.

Newspapers had 10 years figure this out, learning from the mistakes of the’s, but mostly sat around hoping for “divine intervention.”

They should have been training their advertising (not newsroom) staffs to be Web centric a long time ago and asking “why rush online if we can’t make any money”?

Ironically, they failed to heed the advice of their own newsroom legends, Woodward and Bernstein: Follow the money – don’t run from it!

It was bizarre to watch, coming from a online-only publication for 8 years – like stepping into a “time machine.” Few wanted to listen, however. It was like watching a “slow burn.”

Here’s the biggest myth: When newspapers fold, communities will left out in the cold.

Baloney. New entities will pop up with better business models. People are waiting in the wings to do just that. It’s already happening.

Newspapers have come and gone for hundreds of years. It’s the “law of the jungle.”

What’s remained constant, however, is the demand for relevant information and entertainment, and somebody will always step up to provide it.

The Internet, and what it offers in terms of content and distribution, makes meaningful competition all the more possible, removing the barriers to entry that often protected mediocrity.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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