Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Maybe Sam Zell Should Have Spoken With Warren Buffett

As I continue to mull the magnitude of Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell's statement that his acquisition of the newspaper chain was a "mistake," Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett said that newspapers face possible “unending losses” and that the company would not buy most U.S. newspaper “at any price,” according to MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal, reports PaidContent.org.

Buffet also said that newspapers had been essential to readers and advertisers, but not any more. The Omaha-based company has holdings in several newspapers, including the Washington Post. While Buffett lauded the Post on what he called its "attractive businesses" -- including cable -- he admitted in PaidContent.org that the Post “does not have answers to the problems of the newspaper business.”

If Buffett is not so high on the Washington Post, one of the crown jewels in the newspaper business, this can't bode well for publications that are lower on the food chain. Buffett's business partner Charlie Munger responded to a question from FOX Business News's Liz Claman, calling called what's happening to the newspaper business "a national tragedy." He added that as newspapers go away, "what replaces them won’t be as desirable as what we’re losing."

If you read my May 1 post on what's happening at my hometown Baltimore Sun, it illustrates Munger's point beautifully. So what can we do? The simple answer is to find a viable financial model that lets newspapers survive -- in some form -- and the industry continues its rapid change.

And the National Association of Black Journalists has to have a seat at the table as these changes happen. With a large part of its membership in print journalism, the board needs to work with industry players to ensure that journalists of color continue to be represented in the new media model.

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