Out of Detroit

detroit-free-press-5-19-05

Motown news

When it comes to cutting edge trends, we generally say that California leads and the nation follows.

When it comes to contracting industries, maybe that accolade should go to Detroit.

This week, as automakers made their case for a $25 billion bail-out, one could not help but think that this was but a harbinger of what is going to face every other industry in the very near future.

Newspapers and now local TV are also facing the same kind of financial downturn and pressure, so it might be reasonable to look to Detroit to try and unwind the Media Mess, and therein perhaps, lies an answer or two.

In 1982, there were two newspapers in Detroit.  The Gannett owned Detroit Free Press and the Knight Ridder owned Detroit News.

One was a morning paper, the other and afternoon. One was a broadsheet, the other a tabloid.

Yet both were in trouble.

Detroit, it seemed, could only support one paper.

In those halcyon days long gone, it was thought that it was unhealthy for a city like Detroit to only have one newspaper (today, we are facing the very real prospect of no-newspaper cities).

In any event, to cut operating costs and stave off a perceived journalism disaster, the papers filed for something called a JOA, or Joint Operating Agreement. The papers would henceforth share the same printing plant, the same back office to do the books, and perhaps even the same newsroom.  Economies of scale

Such a sharing arrangement (assuming the principals didn’t inadvertently kill each other), would have been a clear violation of anti-trust laws, and so they needed clearance for the Dept of Justice.

Hence, a JOA.

Today, as newspapers move to the web and video, and TV stations do the same, they are finding themselves increasingly on each other’s turf – in terms of viewers/readers, content and advertisers.  In many cases, there simply is not enough advertiser dollars or viewer/readers to go around. Something has to go.

If we wan to preserve the diversity of opinion that multiple media outlets offer (and that is a debate for another day), perhaps what is needed her is a kind of Media JOA.

Most local TV stations start their news day by reading the local paper. That’s where they get the bulk, if not all, of their stories. When the local paper goes, the local TV news will not be far behind. Mostly because their best source of information has suddenly vanished.

What is killing local TV news (and networks, but more slowly) is its massive overhead. The enormous staffing required (or so it seems) to put the product on the air. (Not to mention building, studios, trucks, tower…)

Why not create then, a kind of media JOA.  A sharing of resources with two distinct and different outlets.

First, as newspapers begin to send their reporters out on the street with video cameras, the local news should use that video for their TV news shows.  Makes sense, no? Why repeat the same act over and over. Cut the costs and share the revenue as well as the content.

Second, share the newsroom. Run the local newscast from the newspaper’s newsroom. Looks like ‘real news’ without having to build a set. Hey, it IS real news. What do you know.

Share advertisers.  Bundle the ads for the paper and the on air play (and the web) all at the same time. One buy helps all, and by the way, you only need one ad sales staff, not two.

Getter a smaller piece of a shrinking pie than no pie at all.


One response to “Out of Detroit

  1. Makes sense to me Michael but I guess my thoughts turn to those people who are the ones that actually go through this reconfiguration.

    Ugly, tough and painful are words that come to mind.

    Some will prosper some will adapt and some will fade away.

    I wish them well.

    Hopefully whatever news source emerges from the ashes will be a lot closer to the original ideals of journalism that, in my opinion, have been set aside and replaced with agenda driven nonsense.

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