The Seattle Post Intelligencer's announcement that Tuesday's newspaper edition will be its last is the latest ho-hum moment in recent newspaper history. The Rocky Mountain News, which folded its paper edition recently, has just announced it may reborn in an electronic format. My friend Keith Ferrell, an old news hound who took Omni Magazine digital before anybody knew you could, puts it in perspective as well as anybody I've heard when he says the closing of newspapers is irrelevant. It's the newsroom that's important and nobody's closing that in Seattle.
The PI is simply changing its format, dropping some prohibitive expense and environmentally destructive activity (printing), and going online--which is where we will all eventually be. And it will be creating its own "content," not stealing it, as the bloggers (like moi) do so often.
I look at our local daily--The Roanoke Times--in a metro area of about 250,000 or so and see a newspaper that is fat by online standards, though it incessantly screams of being "lean" in an employment sense. It has far more employees than would be necessary if it weren't printed each day on paper. And if it got down to the essence of its importance, my guess is that it could trim more than two thirds of its entire staff and probably three quarters of the newsroom.
It doesn't need a features department, for example. That type of news is handled far better by other types organizations. Ditto national news. It could eliminate the design staff, save for those who do online work. I suspect it could cut most of its sports staff (save for a two-person local staff that would wrangle freelancers) and all of its sports design staff. Reporters could be given digital cameras (both still and video) and a little training (20 to 30 minutes is about right) and a good bit of the photo department could be dropped. A hard news staff of 6-10 reporters would be a good core, supplemented with an unlimited number of professional freelancers and some "citizen journalists." One to two editors should suffice.
The advertising sales staff would not need to be as large and the executive staff could be mostly eliminated. Back office functions could be jobbed out to a business support company, saving a great deal of money. You could sell the $36 million press (whose very existence, I imagine, will ensure that none of what I'm outlining will take place in the near future) if anybody would buy it or simply get rid of it for junk, cutting losses.
OK, guys, there's your plan. Get to it.