Former Rocky Mountain News president, publisher, and editor John Temple — now blogging from the perspective of a newspaper executive freed of operating within the risk-averse culture of newspapers — is putting out a series of 10 recommendations to the newspaper industry. There are some good ideas in his list so far, though at this writing he’s only up to No. 4.
Tip No. 4 is a good one: “Make the classifieds a separate, standalone business.”
“Instead of trying to beat Craigslist from within a newspaper operation, free the people running classifieds to do what’s best for that business or hire new people to take the business in a different direction. … Give the new company the existing revenue stream and technological base and the authority to set their own course. If they want to buy pages in the newspaper for print ads, fine. If not, fine. Remove any contribution from classifieds from the newspaper’s budget.”
This would, of course, mean realigning and resizing the existing newspaper operation such that it can operate without classifieds income. But as Temple sees it, the new classifieds company can be created with the “mission of connecting buyers and sellers,” and thus become profitable because it has been freed, where it could not before.
As for the effect of freeing classifieds from the rest of the newspaper, Temple suggests:
“It will make it clear to everybody left at the newspaper that they have to find new sources of revenue, that they can’t live on the hope that what once worked will come back and save them.”
That sounds like harsh medicine. Just what the newspaper industry needs.
Don’t like the taste of that? You may end up in the same position as Temple: former leader of a once-proud newspaper that wasn’t able to make all the brave moves necessary for survival. (The Rocky Mountain News ceased publishing on February 27, 2009.)
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