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by lana lynne on 8-13-09
Will newspapers survive the economic downturn? This question has plagued the industry for awhile now -- the consensus seems to be that if they quit relying on an outdated business model, there is still hope. Two alternatives that have surfaced are requiring payment for online content or going non-profit -- the former hasn't worked so well yet, and it would be safe to assume the corporations that own the papers wouldn't be happy with the latter. Nonetheless, the industry clearly needs to change with the times.

One problem with the newspaper business model is its reliance on advertising. Without ads, newspapers have no revenue. After begging, pleading, offering ad space for 1/4 of last year's price, or auctioning ad space with starting bids of 99 cents, do they expect to return to the rates that made the model viable a few years ago, once the economy turns?

An article on, "Conspicuous, but not Consuming," argues that American society has reached a crucial turning point away from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous expressionism. Interesting to think how newspapers could benefit from acknowledging this shift. If people are responding less and less to ads that play off of conspicuous consumerism, perhaps accommodating their readers' desire to conspicuously express will save them in the long run.

One thing is certain. The newspaper industry is unlikely to receive government help (although it's interesting to place their crisis next to those of the auto and credit industries). "Freedom of expression" is at stake, supposedly.

Lately, there have been a series of (unrelated) articles discussing "free press" -- and the role of government in media, the role of media in government, and how these two dynamics shape and control public opinion. Earlier this month, critics lambasted the announcement of a "media crimes law" introduced in Venezuela, denouncing it as "the most comprehensive assault on free speech in Venezuela since Chávez came to power." In this context, others compared the states of media in Venezuela to the U.S., arguing: "there is a much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in the US, and a much greater range of debate in the major media. This can be seen simply by looking at the most important media in both countries." (Check out the full page ad in the Columbia Journalism Review criticizing the Associated Press' treatment of Hugo Chavez.)

An interview with Roberto Hernandez Montoya, president of the Romulo Gallegos Foundation Center for Latin American Studies in Venezuela, likewise explored "freedom of expression" in what he terms "media totalitarianism." He defines the concept as: "Yesterday, there was an engaged press, on the right as on the left, and even religious. But it was not organized the way the big corporations are. That press had ideological and political tendencies, but it was not a global monolith in the sense that today, several media outlets - The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN - set the rhythm for the news and its contents."

While many of the newspapers on the brink of bankruptcy are the local press, many of them nevertheless are owned by one of a few large companies. It would be interesting to see if these smaller publications could break from these corporations, would they be able to attempt a different business model, and a more engaged and more engaging news model?
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  1. Anonymous5:38 PM

    Your idea about a different model for smaller publications is really interesting. The conglomerates really need to be broken up so that people who are invested in their communities can figure out what best works for them.

  2. Anonymous1:06 AM

    What a great resource!


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