I’ve been mulling over Doug Fisher’s intriguing and, at first glance, entirely sensible suggestion to disentangle newspapers from their printing presses. I wonder if this could be the first part of a radical two-step that might help papers prepare for or transition to the online future in a way they haven’t been able to do yet. Fisher writes:
Many smaller newspapers have had their printing done by contract for years. Headlines have come recently, however, as big-city newspapers (think San Francisco, Boston and now New York) explore outsourcing or consolidating printing, even in the absence of a joint operating agreement. Chains such as McClatchy and Media News are also consolidating printing, even if it means earlier deadlines and longer truck routes.
They should go one step further: Move their printing operations into a separate subsidiary with no ties to the newsroom. Newsrooms would pay to print the paper and be free to take their business to a less expensive or more responsive competitor.
This would get the albatross of “big iron’s” debt and depreciation off newsrooms’ backs. It would position those printing operations better for sale. And it would make the pressroom and the newsroom more efficient in accounting for costs and generating new business.
I would go even a step beyond that.
If, as David Sullivan wrote a couple months ago, “newspapers are essentially a logistics business that happens to employ journalists”; and if, as Fisher writes, “Newsrooms need an honest accounting of the costs and revenues associated with producing, distributing and selling the news,” selling off the press is only half a solution. Here’s a possible other half:
Newspapers should get out of the delivery business and send papers through the mail.