Dismantling the newspaper from the outside in and the bottom up

Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review says that, rather than paying a billion dollars for the troubled Los Angeles Times, that the local zillionaires who want to buy it should start their own news-gathering organization instead. “Why offer a million dollars per reporter for the Times?”, he asks.
He’s on to something. There has never been a better time to start a news organization. Why, at a time when the entire concept of the newspaper is in flux, would anyone want to invest in such an enterprise, when they can have more influence over the agenda with a startup? Especially if you have a billion to spend. That’s what Phil Anschultz is doing with the Examiner, creating a national chain of free newspapers. That’s what Ted Turner did with CNN.
Everybody seems to be after a piece of this market, and I’m sure that everyone would have a different opinion about how to go about it. There’s more than one correct answer. My take: Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods that are themselves entire cities. Each “neighborhood” is only marginally served by the LA Times product. If you focus on the low-hanging fruit, you could come up with a dozen or more communities that need and can support a real paper that focuses first on community news, and secondarily on the common coverage that unites Los Angeles.
And since you’re designing it from the bottom up, you should design it with the Web as your primary news platform and a print edition as your marketing and advertising vehicle. This is a strategy that has real economies of scale on the business side (production, ad sales, circulation). The only editorial economies would be on the share city and county coverage. This is a model that could also rock the Orange County Register in its home market, which is just as diverse as Los Angeles.
Just to be clear: This is nothing like the current wave of free tabloids, which seem to view the Web as unnecessary competition to their core business. And these online sites would be produced by professional journalists, not by amateurs or consumers. Although they would be invited to contribute. This is a model that is working in some communities today, but I don’t believe has been done in a major metro market.
The kind of bottom-up network is described probably doesn’t appeal to the heavyweights who want to own a prestige title like the Los Angeles Times. It’s probably going to take a scrappier millionaire to make it happen. Someone who likes the idea doing journalism more than the idea of owning a newspaper. Someone more like Charles Foster Kane, only less fictional.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.