About Me

  • I'm CEO of Newspeg.com, a social news-sharing platform. I've spent 20 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. You can read more about me here.

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February 11, 2011



I first saw the NYT story breaking the AOL/Huffington Post deal at 11 p.m. on my iPad. Two mornings -- 30 hours! -- later, imagine the eye-roll when I saw the big fat headline on my daily paper's business front: "AOL buys Huffington Post." Good grief. . . . .Inching ever closer to the La Brea Tar Pits, sadly, with bumbles like these.


I think another way to look at it is: what kind of market need would an online-only company be trying to fill if they launched a daily paper version today?

I can think of a number of not-entirely-crazy scenarios, but none of them look much like the sort of thing that ends up in the newspaper box on my corner. And if there's not a lot of reason to make a new one, that's a sign we may not need the old ones. Not as currently constituted, anyhow.

Mark Potts

William: Thanks for that comment. It reminds me of a joke you hear in news-entrepreneurial circles: If you went to a venture capitalist with the idea to hire a bunch of people to cover the news and sell advertising, print one version of it a day on crushed paper, load it into trucks, drive around in the middle of the night and throw it on people's lawns and front stoops, the VC would throw you out of the office. Sure, it's historically been a profitable business, and in a diminished way still is—but the future lies elsewhere.

Elaine Clisham

I agree completely with your points about newspapers' need to refocus their resources, but I would add that it doesn't need to be a zero-sum, print-or-Twitter decision. Today's printed newspaper has huge significance for those whose lives will change as a result of events in Egypt -- they can frame it, have their photos taken with it, show it to their grandchildren. It's a saveable snapshot of history, and that is a very important "job to be done," even for people who streamed the news on their iPhones. Case in point: How many of us kept a newspaper from Nov. 5, 2008?


Heh. I should have known that was obvious enough to achieve well-known-joke status. But the joke is exactly right; you wouldn't get past the point where you say, "So then we slice the trees real thin..."

As an entrepreneur, I wonder to what extent people in the news business really understand the core of what they do. When I'm looking at startups, I try to understand what real-world needs people are trying to satisfy, and what common human behaviors they're trying to integrate with. Without those needs and behaviors, you don't have a business.

From the way you describe it, it sounds like plenty of people think they're still in the newspaper business, rather than, say, the business of keeping people up to date on their community and the world, which is what the newspaper business was born out of.

For a while the two were the same thing, so I can see how people could get confused. But I don't understand how people professionally obligated to keep track of the world could still think that the newspaper business is any more sustainable than the horse-and-buggy business circa 1925. Is it just, as Sinclair said, that "If a man's paycheck depends on his not understanding something, you can rely upon his not understanding it." Or is there something more subtle going on?

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