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OUR VIEW: Many newspapers are down but not out

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By The Staff

Before we get back to your calls, we just want to say that our goal for this editorial is 20 bucks. One measly Andrew Jackson, a couple of teensy weensy pledges and we’ll resume our regular editorializing.

I hear the phone ringing already. But before we go to the phones, I want to remind you…

The good news about the current national obsession with the declining fortunes of newspapers is that nobody has suggested a PBS-style fundraising campaign as a solution.

But there has been some good analysis, excellent self-criticism and even some creative ideas for how to fix the downward spiral of print news media.

Although this particular newspaper has a share of troubles in a time of change and hardship for many, we also have a few strengths that persuade us that we may be able to survive the double-whammy that has hit our industry.

Small town local papers appear to be among the most resilient markets. Add the blessing of a community of top-notch earners, backed by relatively stable federal funding, then subtract the handicap of Los Alamos’ small commercial sector. Many papers would be happy to change places with us.

Some that are going down the tubes lately were first hobbled by a pile of debt they took on during the days of glut. Others that have pared their operations to the bone just had nothing more to give.

Editor and Publisher magazine, which has followed the situation, was talking about many newspapers that were starting to miss loan payments last year. Some well-known brands took on heavy debt financing acquisitions. Others borrowed to fight rivals or over-reached for capital improvements.

Current talk about the Boston Globe’s premature demise is not what it seems. While trading on these trends, it’s probably only the parry and thrust of a tough labor dispute.

As everyone knows, many of the troubles of journalism have to do with newspapers’ unrequited relationship with the digital age. On the one hand, there has never been more information sloshing around the world, a great deal of which is supplied by the print media. On the other hand, before the executives of the dead-tree society realized it, they were cornered. They were giving their stuff away for free and seemed to have no way to get paid for all that production that was walking out the door.

“Why pay for the cow if the milk is free?” is the basic question that newspapers now face from their customers and advertisers who are dealing with troubles and belt-tightening of their own.

A posse of big newspapers sat down awhile back with Google but came away without getting even a little piece of the action. You might think newspapers deserve a point or two for providing so much of the content that people are using extravagantly rewarded search engines to find. Not that easy.

Another idea is for newspapers to be excused from antitrust regulations, so they can all get together and start charging in concert for their digital material. It’s probably too late for that. People want their Internet newspaper to be free. Besides, antitrust is a pretty fundamental principle and what industry would not like to throw off the yoke that keeps it from fixing prices?

Civic disengagement, public ignorance, social dispersal and abuse of power will surely follow if newspapers vanish, but that’s not enough to justify one big monopoly or a collusion among many.

Yet another idea turns journalism into a purely digital, non-profit enterprise, but isn’t that just a way to subsidize the losses? If only there were enough grant money and philanthropy to go around.

Wait a minute. Is that the phones I hear ringing?

Get their number and tell ’em we’re still working on a better way.