About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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October 29, 2008



Wow, is this phenomenally stupid on so many accounts. First, how is a debt-laden industry supposed to shut off the cash spigot for "offense" when their banks would throw them into default? Needless to say, there is NO new money out there for an offensive move like this. Second, the "Silicon Valley smart guy" founded a company that is now defunct. Why? Like so many internet plays it was a one-trick revenue pony -- display advertising. Search is owned, get over it. If anyone thinks you can pay for $100,000 copy editors with .50 CPMs you're fooling yourself. There are other out-of-the-box ways to rethink the newspaper industry but cutting your legs off isn't one of them.


So the business model is to get a lot of investors and drive your stock price up and then sell out, resulting in the complete death of the company and the ridiculous wealth of top executives?

Netscape's model is a great one if you want your company's lifespan to be 12 years.


While I was not a reader of the CSM, I must admit that I read most newspapers online myself. Sign of the times… Yet, I find it sad that the glory days of the printed newspaper are clearly history - some of the biggest dailies are struggling seriously. Soon we will carry our ‘Kindle’ to the coffeehouse. Not quite the same…

Donald Singleton

If there were some way that a newspaper (or book author) could protect its/his/her product against being posted on the internet and viewed for free, then I would agree that most hard-copy newspapers must consider going internet-only at some point. In the meantime, the buyers of the hard copy version and those who pay to advertise their goods and services in the pages of hard-copy editions are those who make it possible for publishers to hire the best and brightest reporters and columnists, and to edit and control their output. I shudder to think what will happen to the quality of the journalism -- and the public's knowledge of current events -- that would result if print were to disappear, leaving publishers to fight it out on a more-or-less equal footing with bloggers in the battle for readers' eyes and brains, and for advertisers' dollars.

Andrew Elston

Responding to the problem of monetizing online content, and specifically to Don Singleton's comment: There IS a way for newspapers and other publishers to both protect and promote the reposting of their content on the web, as well as other types of reuse. It's iCopyright (http://info.icopyright.com) and we do exactly this for papers such as Investor's Business Daily, the Globe & Mail, the Independent (UK) and hundreds of B2B publications--as well as the AP and Reuters. Not only can you earn revenue from legitimate reuses, you can track illegitimate reuses. Check it out!

Geoff Dougherty

Though this sounds radical, it's really not. It's straight out of the oldest, and most respected, business playbook around -- Peter Drucker's.

Drucker also had some interesting thoughts on envisioning the changes necessary to make a business profitable. For example, decades ago one of the large farm equipment manufacturers realized that farmers didn't have the capital to purchase their equipment.

So they launched a financing arm and laughed all the way to the bank.

Which beats the hell out of sitting around and bitching that nobody will buy your tractors. Lot of that going around the news biz these days.


I agree that newspapers need to break their addiction to print revenues, but I disagree with your immediacy. I think newspapers need to milk their fading print revenues for as long as they can. This and only this, will allow them time and money to realign their business model with the new information paradigm.

It's not a small amount of money. NYT print revenue and circulation revenue generated approximately $1.7Billion last year. At the same time, their online division generated only $350million. That print money MUST be used for innovation and long term solutions. Pulling the plug now, will simply kill the business.

Robert Ivan


PTL wrote: "First, how is a debt-laden industry supposed to shut off the cash spigot for 'offense' when their banks would throw them into default?"

How is it a cash spigot when, in all likelihood, most of the top 50 or 100 newspapers in the country are losing money? The Christian Science Monitor made the right decision, and in a recent interview, Arthur Sulzberger of the Times said he didn't really care whether the print side survived, or not—he just wants the Times to be where the readers are. The print side of the business has an average readership that is pushing retirement age and is built on the preposterous model of cutting down trees in Canada, processing them into pulp paper, trucking the paper great distances to feed it through more machinery, and then doing a huge overnight physical distribution of the end product. If it didn't exist already, no one would invent and build it today. If newspapers don't move to a radically new model, then others will supplant them with a radically new model. That model could certainly include some print (it will be a weekly magazine at the Monitor). The Sunday Times is clearly profitable and should survive; the rest of it is unsustainable.


Not everyone has high-speed internet, and looking at big ads online is an impossibility with dialup, and only slightly better with high-speed. We need a printed ad pipeline.

Not everyone lives in a town that is big enough for their city news to automatically be national news, and be covered by national professional journalists. We need small town papers.

I think newspapers spend too much time talking about their own demise. It's becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mark Potts

U.S. household broadband Internet penetration is closing in on 70 percent; it's even higher in the workplace.

But "big ads online" isn't really the problem, anyway. In fact, the most successful ads online are the small contextual text ads that Google and others run, which are targeted and measurable and more effective for advertisers in ways display advertising--online or in print--cannot be.

That's one of the major problems with newspapers: Online, they're still chasing the print display advertising business, in the form of banner ads. They've simply got to be more creative about and open to other forms of advertising online.

Tish Grier

Um, Mark--I beg to differ with you on the broadband figure, esp. when it comes to places like Western Mass, where we are still waiting for the promises of the Patrick administration to come true in the hilltowns...

and I'm sure we're not the only place....

Not to mention the cost of broadband--esp. when the only reason you might want to have it is to get the local news.

Perhaps putting everything online is the answer for big papers of record like the NYT--but it sure is a crummy solution for less populace areas where broadband (or good cell phone reception) doesn't reach. Until broadband becomes a utility that everyone can have equally and for a reasonable cost, to put local papers online only could seriously impact the democratic process in certain areas.

And isn't that what journalism is supposed to be about??

Mark Potts

Tish: Depending on the methodology used for the survey, U.S. residential broadband penetration is estimated to be anywhere between 55 and 90 percent; the numbers I cited came from a survey that pegged it in the high '60s, which seemed nicely down the middle. Like any national survey (cf the election polls) there are different results in different parts of the country. Broadband penetration in businesses is well above 90 percent.

But in any event, I've written repeatedly that community newspapers have a huge advantage over their metro counterparts in hanging on to a print audience, and I expect that many of them will be printing long after the New York Times and others go all-digital. The specific example Andreesen and I were addressing was the Times, and I was extending that analysis to other large metro papers--most of which, I believe, will move away from print over the next few years.

Community papers, like those in your area, are a different matter. But there are certainly examples of thriving online local communities, as well, to challenge even those print publications.

Tish Grier

Mark: I agree that many big metros will either move away from print or have much more limited print editions (size and stories.) There may even be transitions where we'll only see some sort of sheet with "read more at" at the end of an article. Then we'll see lots of people putting down papers and whipping out their iPhones at Starbucks....

Yet many small-ish papers are owned by larger companies (I'm thinking of the Newhouse/Advance products here) and may hop on the online-only bandwagon. They will rush to put things online simply because they're seeing their counterparts do it, not because their communities demand it or can handle it. My concern is that bottom line profits will impact decision making that's inappropriate for the community.

Essentially, I don't trust ownership to make the right decisions.

As for hyperlocal online stuff--it's happening, but slowly. That's another issue, though, that I won't get into here. would take up way too much space :-)

Bill Brickley

If the NYT would like to be "where the readers are" it better consider moving to a country with a better "proficiency level" of literacy than the U.S. Only 28 million U.S. adults qualify as proficient readers. 93 million have "basic" or lower reading skills. I believe most people avoid doing difficult tasks when they're optional. If reading is hard . . .Perhaps if our educational system were functional we wouldn't need to discuss the demise of print. Meanwhile, I feel the to comment that it's really difficult to be a NYC strap-hanger [bus/subway commuter for the rural folk] with an open laptop. There are other places I could mention where I feel comfortable reading the paper -- but would NOT feel comfortable scrolling my laptop. I leave it to the imagination. Bottom line, fix the educational system, inspire people with the desire to acquire knowledge for its own sake and newspapers will continue as long as there are paper and ink factories. -30-

Mark Potts

You don't necessarily need a laptop to read NYTimes.com on the subway (or elsewhere). iPhones and devices such as the Kindle work very well for portable reading, and are just the first wave of the next generation of handheld readers. Reading and the printed page are not permanently coupled.

Wander Woman

Unlike some I think that the education system is doing it's best considering what the overly crowd school systems can manage (something that only bound to get worse considering the insane policies where illegals are concerned). Having said that it is a fact that our attention span as a society is going away at rapid pace and doing away with print material will only exacerbate that rampant problem. Gadgets are not the answer no matter who we are trying to compete with.
I have attained much better results with my son's undiagnosed ADD reading print with him than I ever do engaging in computer media rife with ads and pop ups.

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