Friday, October 30, 2009

Let's hear it for toothpaste and newspapers

Here's a modest proposal for the future of journalism: consumer staples.

The New York Times brought to you by Charmin; Crest presents the Dallas Morning News; the Chicago Tribune sponsored by Gillette.

Why not hook up? The Washington Post just reported a third-quarter profit thanks to Kaplan Inc., the test-preparation company that also offers online graduate and professional degrees.

We could do worse.

Despite continued attempts to find the new business model for journalism, no one has discovered it yet. Just the other day, "some 50 of the foremost thinkers about journalism" gathered at Harvard University to ponder the future and how to make money in news, says the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.

In the end, tweeted Newsosaur Alan Mutter, who was invited to attend, "Holy Grail undiscovered."

To be sure, the "media company" model hasn't worked: newspapers, radio and TV stations, billboards, and community weeklies all wrapped up together. And all were whacked in unison as the economy melted down last year.

So diversify: General Electric Co., which has been around since the late 1800s, knows it works. Why not newspapers?

Yet the Post took some shots for the strength of its Kaplan subsidiary. Said a headline on the Editor & Publisher website, "Q3 Profit Up at Washington Post Co. -- No Thanks to Newspapers." At MarketWatch, Kaplan was dubbed the Post's Mariano Rivera, "the reliable [Yankees] closer who strides out of the bullpen and saves the day."

For the Post, Kaplan produced 60 percent of third-quarter revenue, says MarketWatch. That seems an easier way to guarantee a positive bottom line than erecting pay walls for online content or crafting some kind of donations or outside funding system to pay reporters for their work.

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