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Dec. 9, 2008, 8:39 a.m.

Rick Edmonds predicts a lot of coal in newspapers’ stockings

I was down in Florida last week to talk about blogging at the Poynter Institute. And any tourist map will tell you that one of St. Pete’s great attractions is the chance to talk shop with Rick Edmonds — author of the Biz Blog, former publisher in the St. Petersburg Times organization, and one of the great observers of the declining fortunes of the American newspaper.

Here’s an 15-minute interview I did with Rick. The questions I asked him: What will the next six months hold for newspaper companies? What sorts of newspapers are at the most risk? Will we really see closings of big-name newspapers in the next few months? What would be the revenue and cost implications of publishing fewer than seven days a week? If Rick Edmonds was in charge of a major metro paper, what would he do? Are any of the startup models being tried actually working — doing good journalism and making a profit?

If you don’t have 15 minutes, my paraphrased versions of Rick’s answers are below the video.

The interview in brief (and apologies for the sometimes-shaky video):

— What will the next six months hold for newspaper companies? (Really, really bad stuff.)

— What sorts of newspapers are at the most risk? (The major metro papers; companies with a lot of debt; companies with high costs through union contracts.)

— Will we really see closings of big-name newspapers in the next few months? (Yep — and probably not just the Rocky Mountain News. It’s less clear whether it’ll be just two-paper cities or whether there’ll be any major cities left without a paper at all. We’re also really likely to see major papers go less-than-daily.)

— What would be the revenue and cost implications of publishing fewer than seven days a week? (You’d lose some, though perhaps not all, the ad revenue from those days. They’ll try to convert some of those advertisers to online campaign or shift them to the remaining days. You’d lose some circ money. But on the production side, you save real money as soon as you trim out two days, and more beyond that. And you buy fewer trees.)

— If Rick Edmonds was in charge of a major metro paper, what would he do? (Cut days. But they’re in a really tough position with few answers. They need to cut a lot, but still find room to invest in new experiments. And it’s hard to do that without pushing away your current subscribers.)

— Are any of the startup models being tried actually working — doing good journalism and making a profit? Beyond Talking Points Memo. (I have hope for MinnPost — although they’re not yet making money. Pegasus News is doing interesting things on the revenue side, although the journalism is “not terribly ambitious.” [Sorry, Mike — Rick’s words, not mine.] But honestly, no one’s figured it out — unless you count NPR. And maybe there’ll be a few Joan Krocs who want to give money to fund worthy journalism.)

POSTED     Dec. 9, 2008, 8:39 a.m.
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