I really hope the Rocky Mountain News, Baltimore Examiner and New York Sun have all gone to a better place; a place where there are millions of smart, informed readers, exciting, breaking news, world class journalists, and of course, many high-paying advertisers. At least that’s the kind of newspaper heaven I envision. (Feel free to leave your own versions of newspaper heaven below.)

Today I read about another newspaper that is shutting down and will switch to a semi-annual magazine format. Which newspaper? Why it’s none other than my hometown’s award-winning Warrior’s Word high school newspaper.

I understand the problems that caused Warrior’s Word to “adjust” are a bit different than those of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, but if the economy and budgets are so bad that a high school newspaper is closing, we have to ask ourselves: What’s the solution?

It’s no secret that blogs and online news videos are entertaining, informative and can provide a surprisingly high level of journalism. Hell, sometimes I’d rather read Gawker, The Huffington Post or watch Philly D. than read an article in the New York Times, but that doesn’t change how important newspapers are to our society.

We need professional journalists and news organizations that have the resources to uncover scheming politicians, and the column inches to educate people about tough issues like health care. We need journalists who report the news accurately and fairly, despite their personal views and opinions. In short, we need the type of in depth, professional reporting our newspapers currently provide.

So, what’s the solution?

While there are a lot of people who love ink stained fingers, the “paper” in “newspaper” may have to go. If newspapers cut the cost of a printed product they will have more money to invest in their online product. The Capitol Times in Madison, Wis. switched to a twice weekly tabloid and online-only product in April 2008, and so far it seems to be working.

Moving the focus entirely online gives newspapers the opportunity to bring their content to another level. Here are a few things newspapers could do to enhance their online content:

  • Show full video interviews to supplement stories
  • Award a local blogger the chance to write a story every month
  • Increase investigative reporting
  • Create hyper-localized text message offerings. Is the power out in your neighborhood? Wouldn’t it be great if you could sign-up for text message alerts (which include a link to a story) that tell you this type of news?
  • Hire news staff to be on the clock 24/7. The harsh reality is newspapers are competing with all media outlets. When news breaks on Twitter you want readers to go to JSOnline.com, not WISN-TV or WISN.com.

Better and more diverse online content will continue to increase online visitors, not to mention the increase in web traffic from people who used to read the “paper” version (let’s be honest, 99 percent of them are online anyway).This all increases ad revenue and eventually profit.

I know these few ideas are probably not going to save our newspaper industry, but it’s a start. After all, if Perez Hilton can sustain over 2 million unique visitors a month, our newspapers should be able to do the same, if not better.

What are your thoughts? Where do you see the newspaper industry going?


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