None of this had to happen,” says Jim O’Shea about the decline of newspapers. That’s a myth that this blog attacked yesterday.

O’Shea’s argument is that if only newspaper publishers, in a fit of visionariness, could have banded together, started charging for their content and created a national advertising platform, they’d be set.

In his new book, The Deal from Hell, O’Shea laments the failure of the New Century Network, a consortium of nine newspaper companies that attempted to pull off this pay-for-content stunt. “Instead of charging customers to recoup their cost of creating content, newspaper companies put the content on line for free, hoping that a bigger audience would lure enough online ad dollars to pay their costs and boost profits. It was a bad bet.”

O’Shea, then, contends that newspapers missed an opportunity, a moment. Don Graham, publisher of The Washington Post at the time of NCN’s launch and collapse, doesn’t remember it quite that way: “NCN proved that a consortium of companies can’t run much of anything, let alone a new tech company. All the top people in the industry were represented.. . . We had seven or eight companies, seven or eight competing visions and a very, very slow process of resolving them.”