Great article on why newspapers have to win online in order to succeed. I don't think anyone would disagree with the article. But let's just say, I'm skeptical that it can be done.
Newspapers have a lot of overhead costs. It costs a LOT of money to hire reporters, write the paper, typeset the paper, print it and distribute it. Most newspapers have a lot of office space and are paying off VERY expensive new printing presses that were purchased when most newspapers have gone to the smaller newspaper format in the past 8 years. Additionally, nearly all major newspapers in the country are owned by major media conglomerates (think Gannett, McClatchy or Tribune Co). In order to keep profit margins up (to appease investors), newspapers have significantly cut staff. Over time, this has led to overworked reporters. Overworked reporters will, overtime, tend to cut corners on doing news stories. They won't get the 3rd, 4th and 5th sources that really add depth to the stories...and often can't afford the time it takes to get a 2nd source to confirm a story. Reporting has become sloppy (to put it lightly). Because of the demand for profitablitily, and the huge costs that come with pringing the physical newspaper, there is really no way to reverse the trend.
Meanwhile, let's assume 4 or 5 reporters get together and decide to start an online newspaper. They're starting with virtually no overhead -- no expensive printing presses, minimal office space needed, and no distribution costs. All of the online newspaper's resources will go into server space and good reporting. There are no deadlines -- when a story is done, it's posted. Need an extra hour to get the extra source? No problem. We'll post it at 2:00 instead of 1:00. These online resources can provide great information, and charge a minimum amount online ($5 a month maybe?) for people to access this content.
Given this scenerio, a traditional newspaper has no chance of competing head-to-head - -because, for as long as they have a printed version of the paper, they will always have a larger portion of their resources going into printing and distribution than the reporting. People are beginning to demand better reporting. It's my opinion that it will be impossible for traditional newspapers to compete in the online world.
Eventually, this could be very good for consumers. Years ago, most major cities had competing daily newspapers that provided different perspectives and views on the world's events. But over time, newspapers folded or merged, leaving most markets with only one daily newspaper source and no alternative views. With the vast majority of radio stations going to national music formats (and most TV news just being junk at this point), the one traditional newspaper has been the lone voice for local news issues. The emergence of true online journalism will allow for more players to be involved, including decenting opinions. It will be good for the further education of the public on local issues. And in the end people will become smarter, and likely, there will be more demand for good journalists.
But it won't be traditional newspapers that start the trend, it will be a small group of entrepreneurs that will begin the trend.