Pearlstein: Newspaper Business

Steven Pearlstein
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, April 16, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein was online Wednesday, April 16, at Noon ET to discuss the future of the newspaper business.

Read today's column: Newspaper Publishers Chasing the Wrong Story

About Pearlstein: Steven Pearlstein writes about business and the economy for The Washington Post. His journalism career includes editing roles at The Post and Inc. magazine. He was founding publisher and editor of The Boston Observer, a monthly journal of liberal opinion. He got his start in journalism reporting for two New Hampshire newspapers -- the Concord Monitor and the Foster's Daily Democrat. Pearlstein has also worked as a television news reporter and a congressional staffer.

Pearlstein was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his columns about mounting problems in the financial markets. His award was one of six Pulitzer Prizes won by The Washington Post this year.

Read Pearlstein's latest columns.

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada: How can we make newspapers relevant to students? Most of my students in University do not get their information from the printed page. Could Steve Jobs be right? Have we stopped reading? And, if we have, stopped learning as well?

Steven Pearlstein: These are separate questions, whether people are readinga nd what form they are reading. We in the journalism business should be indifferent about how they get it. As to whether they are reading anything, or "hearing" anything, I tend to doubt that students at some point won't grow up and want and need to engage the world in an intelligent way. And to do that, they will need news and commentary from professional journalists. Of that, I'm certain. How those journalists will be organized, what the business model is, is still in flux. But let's not get too pesssimistic.

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Alexandria, Va.: I like newspapers. I prefer to buy every one that I can. However, I no longer buy any since the newspapers are now fake and the country is effectively run by gang stalking poison gangs. Credibility is the most valuable asset of the newspaper and it has been lost. Do you see that changing?

Steven Pearlstein: No, I don't think credibility has been lost, but it has been damanged for a number of reasons. I do see that changing because we are going from a period in which editors and reporters didn't really focus on what readers wanted and needed as much as they should have, to a period where they are being forced to. That's a good first step to healing the credibility problem.

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Ocean City, N.J.: How does one explain the success of the Arkansas Gazette Democrat (or Democrat-Gazette?), which refuses to put free content on the Web and has seen a rise in circulation?

Steven Pearlstein: Unlike the chief executive of the Washington Post Co., who is very smart and knowledgeable, I don't think free content is the way of the future. For quality news -- that is, non-commodity news--readers are going to have to pay, and readers are going to be willing to pay. And that will be in addition to advertising revenue, which will represent a significant but still smaller share of all revenue.

As for Arkansas, you have to remember that it is still virtually a monopoly when it comes to local news, and they may therefore be able to do what other news organizations can't. But it is telling us something about consumer behavior and willingness to pay for news.

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Cleveland Park, Washington D.C.: Congratulations on your Pulitzer Prize! I enjoy reading your column as it seems to be one of the least biased and most relevant column about economics today. I appreciate the understandable "big picture" reporting about the complex global financial world we live in today. Thank you!

Steven Pearlstein: You're welcome, neighbor.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it that hard for publishers and editors to see that sports, columns, features, investigations, and local news are what will continue to sell papers? Instead, the Post thinks it is committing news when it has 10 high level reporters uncritically regurgitating what national politicians say. Send an intern to the President's next news conference.

Steven Pearlstein: No comment.

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Reno, Nev.: Do you think readership, advertising and circulation would increase if local newspapers were free? Or, is it too late? Will Advertising, and Circulation in this "free" paper increase to the extent that this would be cost effective? Thanks, John

Steven Pearlstein: There is a good niche for "free" newspapers that are quick reads and deal either in community news or commodity news. But for quality journalism that takes lots of time and talent to create, free isn't likely to be a sustainable model, in my opinion. And I note that Rupert Murdoch, who is no dummy, recently concluded the same thing about charging for the web site of the Wall Street Journal. His initial instinct was to move it to free, but he was persuaded otherwise.

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On the road (home: Falls Church, Va.): Think about this. These companies (the large ones) have reinvested precious little capital into new technologies. Not just an adjunct website...but...newspapers have always published index(es) to their news and lengthy ones to their classified ads. Yet no traditional media company spent any venture capital to set up a shop in Silicon Valley and try to gain traction in "Search" i.e. Google-like products. Same can be said about personal ads. Papers used to be full of 'em. Don't they dovetail with social network sites like Facebook? The last major out of the box traditional media investment was Al Neuharth's start-up of USA Today. Guess we could also include Murdock's FOX network. What other industry has such little risk capital invested in new products? (I am a Gannett employee)

Steven Pearlstein: Well, there are papers like this one that invested pretty heavily in money-losing web sites before they began to generate some serious cash. But as a general proposition, you are right. This has been an industry that was in a "milking" phase for several decades. There were investment in color presses (that advertisers valued) and computerized pagination systems (which save money in the long run). But investment in product and experimentation with new forms or creation of new products -- surprisingly limited given the profit levels of the industry.

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Baltimore, Md.: A question about the business model of newspapers: I have long been puzzled as to why major papers such as the Times and Post rushed to put all their printed content (and additional content, to boot) online before they figured out how to make it pay, online advertising rates being much lower than print rates. Papers made an enormous investment in technology that, it seems to me, has only eroded the readership of print editions without adding new revenue. What other business gives its product away free? (The Times tried charging for "premium content" and that didn't work very well.)

Steven Pearlstein: Well, its a bit more complicated than that. With a new medium like this, it may be worthwhile to build up readership quickly by offering stuff for free, and then either finding that the ad revenue justifies the arrangement, or moving to a hybrid system of ad revenue plus subscription fee. We are still inthe early stages of this, so it shouldn't be surprising that the business model is still evolving. But its not clear to me that the initial strategy was wrong, particularly for a regional paper like the Post, that could only gain a national audience through the web.

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Freising, Germany: Regarding the emergence of credible and convenient online alternatives, I have the impression that many online news sources cater to a particular market segment and political or social orientation, and hence, I have the impression that a consensus of opinion regarding factual reporting is a receding phenomenon. I agree with you that a convenient and trusted source for most of their news is desirable, but I'm wondering if the urge to hear and read a favorable interpretation of the news will prevail.

Steven Pearlstein: I think people will, over the long run, come back to credible news sources where real reporting is done. That's just a hunch.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think there will be a time when there is no longer a "paper" paper? If so, how will we be able to read its replacement while standing on a subway?

Steven Pearlstein: We're certainly on the cusp of having a 8x10 inch electronic devise onto which we can download the daily paper or a book. And things like that may mean that the paper will be going out of the newspaper business. I don't think we can know that. What we do know is that we are in a transition phase when news organizations will have to offer both. It may be, as I've suggested in the past, that printed newspapers will actually get smaller while the on-line offerings will actually get "fatter." To me, that seems like the next sustainable model.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Steve..I hear what you're saying, that newspapers must reinvent themselves to compete with new technology. And I think, in general, this a good thing. I think the fact that local blogs and community reporting are driving trends in the print media market is outstanding. However, the idea of regional consolidation or clustering terrifies me. This is exactly the problem with the airwaves that the Bush-controlled FCC has all but completely removed any and all regulation from. The idea that I might one day move to a city where my only choice of news outlet, radio, TV or newspaper is operated by Rupert Murdock sends chills down my spine. If this is the inevitable direction of news consolidation, is some type of regulation to ensure a truly free press not necessary? Not that I'm saying reporters on Fox News aren't free to report the facts but....yea...I'd like the Post reporters to not have that fate.

Steven Pearlstein: There's a tendency to see this in political terms, which is based on the fear that dominant news organizations in a region will snuff out dissent and alternative voices. I think that's getting increasingly difficult. Fox News has not snuffed out any voices. It obviously has appeal to large number of people who don't share your point of view. But that's not snuffing out anyone with your point of view.

The fact is that readers and advertisers can't and won't support an industry that is organized into inefficient units. So instead of having one dominant metro and a dozen suburban dailies in a region, maybe there will be two competing news organizations that serve the entire region with papers and web sites. And maybe each of these news organizations will own a radio station and a TV station. That's not undue concentration in my opinion, although I'm sure when Andrew Schwartzman and Ed Market read this they will claim it to be so. There can still be entry by other newspapers. There will be several other TV and radio stations. There will be independent lboggers and other on-line news outlets. The idea that anyone can "control" the conversation capture the political process through media ownership is a declining risk.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: You predict consolidation and say that papers with circulations less than 25,000 can't ever be any good. I disagree and think the real model will be more like the one in commercial banking--a barbell with a few mega-papers, lots of ultra-local ones and very little in between. If I want to know what's happening in my neighborhood, I can't find it in the New York Times or even the tabloids. Instead, I check a community weekly with a small circulation that does a very good job--and it's free.

Steven Pearlstein: Sorry, but I really don't think newspapers that pay most or all of their reporters $20,000 and top editors $40,000 and have small staffs that can't develop any expertise, that that's not good daily journalism. You can perhaps have community weeklies with those kind of economics, although even there I've noticed an alarming decline in quality in many places. But a daily product that aspires to have news on a wide range of issues and full offering of features -- you can't do that well with 15,000 circulation.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Mr. Pearlstein, Your last line hits it right on the head: newspapers have lost faith in their readers. Newspapers, with a few exceptions, have dumbed down their product so far, I might as well read People Magazine. And while its not your focus, TV news is the same way. It doesn't seem to dawn on anyone that the reason I am reading the newspaper is to get the in depth coverage of the story. Stories in the Post, like secret CIA prisons, Walter Reed and "The Angler" are exactly what I am looking for. If newspapers continue to think that the reading public has the attention span of a gnat, they will continue to decline. I don't need the newspaper equivalent of a 10 second sound bite, I can get that on TV or by reading the garbage in my doctor's office.

Steven Pearlstein: Thank you. Well put.

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Arlington, Va.: Steve, As a young adult in his 30's, I have to say that I don't pick up a newspaper ever. I do come to the Washington Post website for all my information though. I think after my parents generation, not many others read newspapers. Even though the internet came about when I was in my late teens, early college, no one then, that I knew, ever read the newspaper except for the ads. I think newspapers have a future but only online, plus honestly, we could save millions and billions of trees a year by not publishing them. Best, James

Steven Pearlstein: James, newspaper websites ARE newspapers. I hope everyone understands that we are talking about news organizations now, not newspapers. And as I said before, newspapers need to become indifferent as to which medium their customers chose to get their news from.

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Kensington, Md.: Mr. Pearlstein: The New York Times occasionally has Q&A sessions between the public and its editors. One common complaint is the perception that factual, spelling, and grammatical mistakes are becoming more common. The Times editors, however, strenuously deny this is happening, and I think I agree with them. Even if the quality of the information and writing is staying the same or improving, newspapers have failed to acknowledge that their readers are becoming smarter at a faster rate than they are. The Washington Post has the more difficult position of being located in a town full of academics and experts who know much more--present company excepted--on just about every topic the paper covers. I have worked closely with financial and business journalists over the years while working for the government and international agencies. And recently I have been recruited to move into that profession. I have been hearing, however, that the demand for "sourced" information is drying up. After having talked with journalists in New York, London, and here, it is no wonder why: many of them possess only the most basic knowledge of topics they are covering, and more or less rely on sources to tell them what to write. Unfortunately, they are unable to judge the quality or import of any of the information they receive and often do not ask the right questions. I hear similar complaints when I talk to my engineer and lawyer colleagues. I don't think the problem is that the time has come and gone for newspapers, but many of us do think that the time has come and gone for journalists. A couple of experts overseen by a good editor could produce more, higher quality work than the gaggle of young journalists sent running around all over town. You would still need some people to cover events, but when it comes to any topic that requires some specialized knowledge, journalists and journalism schools cannot keep up. (Even within academia, the opinions of the intellectual rigor of university communications and journalism programs rank them somewhere between football and lacrosse.) Your solution seems to take an industrial organization approach, whereby newspapers survive via efficiency gains brought on by organizational change. The type of paper you are thinking of (e.g. USA Today) moves more in the direction of tabloid. I think a large fraction of the public would like something that moves in the other direction, that is perhaps on an even smaller scale, but more intelligent and better researched. To put it bluntly, papers have to make a choice between being big and producing dumb news and being small and producing smarter news. I myself would be willing to pay a lot for the latter. The market for the middle is disappearing.

Steven Pearlstein: We don't disagree. I'm for slightly smaller and better.

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Arlington, Va.: No question, only a comment. Having been a journalist, I know how easy it is to believe that quality journalism is the solution to newspapers' problems. From the newsroom viewpoint, self-interest does distort the analysis. The larger problem with newspapers isn't the failure to invest in journalism, much as we might wish it. Nor is it the investors' desires for profits. As long as massive investment is required to run a news operation, the desire to maximize profit won't go away. And if great journalism were going to lead to business success, it wouldn't be the grand old ladies of the industry, like the Post and former Knight Ridder papers in the gravest trouble right now. No, the problem of the modern era really began when TV took the national advertising in the 1960s, then in the 1980s direct mail cut massively into the ROP advertising, and retailers began to consolidate and create their own economies of scale for reaching audiences. The Postal Service was the first big, tax-subsidized competitor, and the big box retail trend played right into that. Soon, all we had left to lean on was classifieds. Then came Craig's list and we were toast. Newsrooms make almost an obsession out of not understanding this. But then, grappling with this reality would cut into the journalist's fond belief that great journalism makes successful business plans. There is, unfortunately, very little evidence to prove that. Wishing won't make it so. The future for newspapers, unfortunately, is sound-bite websites, and a lot of niche publications as local advertising vehicles. Newspapers will survive in some form, so long as paper is affordable (and that may not be for long). Whether great journalism will survive or not is the much tougher question. The sad truth is that the public is not willing to pay for it--either with their wallets or their eyeballs--in sufficient numbers to support the business plan that was, nor any reasonable one that we might wish for in the future. It is a grim outlook, but trying to shift the blame to the greedy owners--the newsroom's favorite bete noire--only gives us longer odds for survival. That's not the answer.

Steven Pearlstein: Look, I'm a business reporter, so you notice I don't use words like greedy owners. But I do make the point that, during a period of technological transition and as you move to a very different business model, you can't expect to make much of a profit. And to try to generate a big profit at such times will only erode the quality of the product, and drive away the most valuable readers and advertisers. So I think that is a losing strategy.

As for the long run future, I believe that there will be a market for quality news and that people will get used to paying for it. But it will take time, and people may have to lose it for a while to realize how much they miss it and are willing to pay for it. That's very possible.

Meanwhile, the newspaper owners have got to realize they can't organize themselves into units of 10,0000 and 15,000. Its simply too inefficient, and the result is a poor quality product that over time will make less and less profit. The future is in larger, more efficient units that can afford to pay for quality local reporting and editing, and for quality national and international reporting purchased from organizations like the Post or the Times or National Journal or whatever.

What really disturbs me, however, is to hear, as I did this morning at the American Socienty of Newspaper Editors' conference here in Washington, editors saying they have to cut back on their national and international reporting and then complaining about how much they are paying to the Associated Press. They can't have it both ways. They need to understand that some of the savings that comes from closing Washington or overseas bureaus has to be plowed back into "buying" the news they used to "make" less efficiently in house. The problem with AP isn't that it is charging too much -- it is that it is charging too little!

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Steve, I think you nailed the issue in your last sentence. But then, I expect no less from my Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. Thanks very much for your insights.

Steven Pearlstein: Thanks, man.

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Reston, Va.: Do you think the "pack" mentality of many (but of course not all) journalists have contributed to the decline in readership and is reflective of the dumbing down of the news business?

Steven Pearlstein: In a word, yes. Also the disappearance of really sprightly, memorable writing.

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Arlington, Va.: It isn't hard to figure out why newspapers are failing in the business sense; they aren't fulfilling their duty: to provide the news. Take the post for example. Over the past three years, just about every week, we get a sob story about illegal immigrants and how we are all mean spirited for enforcing the laws and we are all racists for wanting an orderly immigration process that ensures no violent criminals are roaming our streets. For that, the post calls it reader's racist...of course not in those words. There has never been one story about the costs for health care, incarcerations, and the depression of blue collar wages that illegal immigrants have brought to this area. Not to mention the violent crime. NOT ONE STORY HAS EVER EXPLORED THIS IN THE POST, and this is news. I could give dozens of examples like this. So once again, when newspapers want to get back to reporting news, I will re-subscribe to the post. I canceled mine a year ago.

Steven Pearlstein: I don't think that is true, that we've never covered the costs.

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New York, N.Y.: Steve, Why do two prominent public companies in the newspaper business (New York Times & Washington Post) insist on having two classes of common stock that effectively diminish shareholder rights and entrench the Sulzberger & Graham families? I would argue that the press should promote shareholder rights (a form of democracy) instead of being a little insular club. I don't buy for a second the Sulzberger argument that two classes are necessary to preserve the journalistic integrity of the Times. By the most objective measure, stock prices, the Times has been a horrible investment and the Post a very mediocre investment. Just go to the company websites: if you had invested $10,000 in Times stock ten years ago, you'd have about $5,400 today. The Post does somewhat better at about $12,800.

Steven Pearlstein: We have two classes of stock to help prevent what happened to Knight Ridder, which was forced to break apart by shareholders looking to maximize short term returns. For newspapers, which have sometimes conflicting obligations to their communities and their shareholders, that's a pretty good solution. And since investors know that going in, those looking for maximum returns will know to invest in other companies, particularly at a time when the industry is in transition and profits will, of necessity, be very low.

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Boston, Mass.: I sit in front of a computer all day, and I read news online all day too. I also value the reporting of MSM outlets far more than blogs, and fully believe their content is worth my money. I never paid NY Times when they "experimented" with premium/paid content. And although the Boston globe's website is absolutely hideous with respect to its editors' highlighting of least-common-denominator stories, I know that the print version is great, yet I don't pay for a subscription because I don't like the idea of recycling extra paper. This is similar to the music industry's problem of getting people to pay for content that can be obtained for free. I have always felt that the solution is the NPR-style pleading and begging for donations. But if there's any road map for these once great media empires to transform to non-profits, well, I'd be shocked, but it's the only solution I see. Alternatively, a micro-payment system could work. I'd be willing to give your column $.05 for every read! (BTW: congrats on the Pulitzer)

Steven Pearlstein: We are coming to that, micropayments. That's the way we will ease into "paying for content," in my opinion.

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Arlington, Va.: Steven, did you watch The Wire on HBO at all during it's final season? It's very relevant to the topic of newspapers.

Steven Pearlstein: It surely was relevant. And I hope you agree that top editor and publisher came off looking foolish.

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400 papers less than 25,000 circulation: Since I'm from a small Pennsylvania town, I was distressed by your call for more consolidation among small circulation papers. If all those papers shut down and the coverage became more national, would corruption among county commissioners ever be uncovered? Despite urban/suburban people being more sophisticated and learned, local papers here wouldn't sell if they didn't cover high school sports.

Steven Pearlstein: Who said that consolidation would lead to ignoring of local news? Not me, sir. If your paper, for example, were part of the Pittsburgh Free Press, but there were a section with news only of your community written and edited by a local bureau, then you could have the best of both worlds: good local news plus a much better package of national and international news than either your paper, or the Pittsburgh paper, can now offer, because of the efficiencies of scale.

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Washington, D.C.: In how many other industries are 20% profit margins considered the norm?

Steven Pearlstein: Profit margins are actually hard to discuss because of the different characteristics of different industries. The oil industry, for example, has very high returns on equity, but a more reasonable profit margin. Pharmaceuticals have high margins and high returns. Software companies can have high margins but low returns. So you have to be careful about talking about profitability in terms of only a single metric when comparing industry to industry.

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Middletown, Del.: I am in my mid-30s and feel like I am a dinosaur. My husband and I cannot imagine a day without the paper newspaper at the breakfast table. I don't want to stare at a laptop over my corn flakes. We share the paper with our inquisitive 4-year-old son; he loves to look at the photos (especially a good fire photo). We talk about Obama and Clinton with him. We point out things in the news that he might have been a part of....like coverage of a weekend festival or something that we attended, so he can see "himself" reflected in the paper. He reads Spiderman with his dad each morning. We love newspapers and we are (hopefully) instilling a love in him. I hope there is still a paper paper around when he is my age.

Steven Pearlstein: There may be a newspaper that is automatically downloaded every night onto your computer and printed out on your own printer by the time you wake up. Just one possibility.

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Washington, D.C.:"But its not clear to me that the initial strategy was wrong, particularly for a regional paper like the Post, that could only gain a national audience through the web." Additionally, for smaller town papers, their websites are often the only real hub the community has on the web. I'm told that the website of my small hometown paper makes a considerable profit, though whether that's enough for its corporate owner (Gannett) remains to be seen. Gannett, incidentally, has been streamlining the websites of all its papers...I imagine by putting in place a base site that each paper can tinker with on their own. I think the result is somewhat of a disaster.

Steven Pearlstein: In practice, it may be a disaster. But that is a failure of execution, not strategy. Building the foundations and architecture of a good web site is expensive, and that is why Gannett absolutely needs to do that centrally. But in time each newspaper can adapt that architecture and framework to the needs of its readers, with local content. One thing big companies have trouble doing -- and I know this is true of Gannett -- is to know how to get all the advantages of scale and centralization while avoiding the pitfalls, such as you describe. The mucky-mucks at headquarters, perhaps to justify their inflated salaries, feel they have to dictate too much. The best companies are those that learn to resolve those tensions better.

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Washington, D.C.:"News executives will often try to justify dumbing down their product, or making it more parochial, by explaining that local coverage is their unique competitive advantage and that readers who want more can always get it somewhere else these days, often for free online." Thank you, thank you for sticking up for all of us loyal newspaper readers who are not soccer moms looking for the peewee schedule. Nothing good ever comes to an industry that says "go look for what you want elsewhere."

Steven Pearlstein: Exactly.

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Seattle, Wash.: Not to denigrate your colleagues, but where are the next Bob Woodwards, or, rather, what medium are they in? One reason for the falling circulations and lose of actual readership, I think is the decreasing lack of relevance a paper has over internet news services and cable news. Between papers and cable news, there seems to be little difference in the stories they cover at times, little difference in the analysis and even less relevance.

Steven Pearlstein: I agree. Content matters.

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Ex-Scribe in D.C.: I used to work for chain-owned small-town papers a quarter-century ago, and I have a hard time believing that a larger chain of small papers would be better for reporters and editors than a locally owned paper. The small papers are still going to hire people for dirt pay and crud benefits, and the young reporters will stay for a year or two and then take off, and the local residents will complain that nobody at the newspaper understands or cares about the town. And the reporters at the bottom of the chain get NO support from their out-of-state masters.

Steven Pearlstein: That may have been the way it worked in many chains, but that is not the model I am suggesting. I'm suggesting consolidation so papers can pay MORE to BETTER reporters and editors who will be affordable because their HIGHER salaries are spread over a larger base of business.

Here's the analogy. Today, the steel industry in the US produces more steel than ever before. But it does so with a fraction of the number of employees, in part because of technology and in part because of consolidation. And those front-line employees make MORE than steelworkers have ever earned (they are also much more highly trained and skilled).

Because reporting and editing are, by their nature, more labor intensive, the reduction in headcount in newsrooms need not be a severe as it was in the steel industry. But I think you get the idea.

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Washington, D.C.: Your column today is spot-on, particularly the last graph about newspapers having lost faith in their readers. What can they do to regain trust? And what should the more successful papers, such as USA TODAY, do to build readership?

Steven Pearlstein: I'm glad you mentioned USA Today, because it is a great success story. And let's point to two important aspects of that success. One, Al Neuharth was willing to invest heavily in losses before it finally turned a profit. And two, as a journalistic product it has steadily gotten better and better. The last couple of years there may have been some slippage on that quality improvement as positions were cut. But overall, it is a good example of what you can do by being innovative, trying new things and constantly improving your product to suit the needs and desires of your customers.

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Re: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: As a former Little Rock citizen, I can remember when Arkansas had two papers, the Democrat and the Gazette. However the inaptly-named Democrat was run like a for-profit business and focused on short-term profits while the Gazette focused on good local, regional and national coverage. In the end, the Democrat swallowed the Gazette and eliminated the regional and national coverage in favor of AP wires and other papers' stories. Isn't that the not-so-hidden danger behind consolidating smaller papers, that the chorus of voices is lost? And when that happens, won't we see a repeat of the Libby trial where many 'prominent' journalists were revealed to be more press secretaries than investigators?

Steven Pearlstein: Yes, that's a danger. But to say that consolidation can be done badly is not an argument against consolidation. The economic logic of consolidation is overwhelming, in my opinion.

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Small Town News: Interesting column--I especially liked your final point. What do you think about the viability of community weeklies? It seems in a lot of the places I've spent time that a weekly would be (obviously) much cheaper to produce, but could also include the really local interest stuff. Local advertisers can afford to be in there, and readers will give you a few minutes once a week for local content.

Steven Pearlstein: There's obviously a market for a weekly, advertising-driven community weekly. Who owns it is an open question. Should that be an insert in the regional daily? Or owned by a chain of similar weeklies? Or can it be independent and achieve efficiency through the use of new technology? Those are open questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Steve, why should anybody care what happens to newspapers?

Steven Pearlstein: Maybe that's a good note to end on. "See" you all next week.

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