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Now nonprofit, The Salt Lake Tribune has achieved something rare for a local newspaper: financial sustainability
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Jan. 21, 2009, 7:03 a.m.

Meet: Tim Windsor

You’re probably wondering: Who is this Tim Windsor anyway? So, briefly:

Most recently, I was the vice president and general manager of Baltimore Sun Interactive. We had a portfolio of products — led by BaltimoreSun.com — which delivered more than 400 million pages in 2008. Like a lot of people in the business, though, I found myself staring at an incredible opportunity in the form of a buyout. So, after 12 years with The Sun, I left at the end of last summer.

For years I’d been aching to join the blogging conversation, but my employer frowned on it. So when I was suddenly free to do whatever I liked, the first thing I did was launch a site, Zero Percent Idle, about the business of journalism. (Coders might get the jokey “I’m so busy” reference in the title.) I’m shifting that news-business focus here, where I’ll be posting frequently about what’s working in new journalism, who’s experimenting with new business models, and where to find the new thought leaders, both inside and outside of our business.

And, when I’m not here, you can find me frequently @timwindsor on Twitter.

Here’s a brief summary of what I believe.

  • This is a great time for journalism. Never before in history has there been such an opportunity to reach as many people in meaningful ways.
  • This is a lousy time for newspapers. Whether these are end times for the printed first draft of history, or merely a bump along the way I’ll leave to others to thrash over. But if the patient isn’t dead yet, I say it looks awfully pale, and that wet, wheezing cough can’t be good.
  • We are no longer a monopoly: This is a good thing. The news business, in theory at least, is all about democracy in action. That millions of people now have access to the tools available previously only to those willing to pay princely sums can only lead to a greater diversity of voices in the public sphere.
  • We are no longer a monopoly: This is a bad thing. When newspapers ruled the world, long, long ago (the 1990s), we could pretty much print our own money during rare press downtimes. Monopoly (or, even in two-paper towns, half a monopoly) meant untold riches and the opportunity to reinvest our revenues in preparation for the coming sea change in news consumption habits. Well, at least we got the riches.
  • Finding the right business model will be hard. Banners and sponsorships only go so far — about 10-15% of total revenue in the best markets. We need to figure how to support a news gathering and reporting operation on significantly less revenue in the near future, as print revenue continues to crash and the hockey stick of online revenue growth shallows out.
  • Journalists are a smart but stubborn bunch. The good news is that we’re not trying to teach pipe-fitters to become sous chefs. Journalists may hate change deep within their hearts, but they happen to be extremely good at it. There are few people more adept at the minutia of social media, for instance, than a journalist who’s “come over” and focused her attentions on knowing the space from top to bottom.
  • Nobody has the perfect answer. Yet. If they did, we would not need this forum. We’d simply copy their brilliant plan and call it a day.
  • Journalism is important. I mention this last even though so many in the business put it first. An open society needs quality journalism. But quality journalism needs a plan, if it’s going to survive. And a big part of that plan needs to recognize that we’re not the only game in town anymore — that lots of people “buy ink by the barrel,” metaphorically at least. Everyone in the news organization — scribblers and suits alike — must focus on building a business that will survive. If not, then the work of journalism that we believe is important will most certainly go away, and all we’ll have left is Perez Hilton and the LOLcats.

Thanks for inviting me to the table. I look forward to the conversation.

POSTED     Jan. 21, 2009, 7:03 a.m.
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