Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Newspaper Mantra: Must...Raise...Cash

I remember when journalists were all abuzz after it was revealed in a Politico story that Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth had canceled a series of health care salons. The Post was selling spots to these exclusive salons -- which they said would feature the paper's health care reporters, Obama administration officials working on the issue and key members of Congress -- for upwards of $250,000. We were all gasping about what we saw was a blatant blurring of the sacred line between church and state -- editorial and sales. At first, the Post stonewalled and refused to cancel the salons. But after the controversy started to grow, Weymouth was forced to cancel them. "Absolutely, I'm disappointed," Weymouth said in an interview in the Post. "This should never have happened. The fliers got out and weren't vetted. They didn't represent at all what we were attempting to do. We're not going to do any dinners that would impugn the integrity of the newsroom." But the bigger question was why did the Post feel it needed to do this in the first place? Simple - to bring in cash. We've all read ad nauseum about how newspapers large and small are being decimated by a precipitous drop on ad revenue, causing a collapse in the advertising-based model that has been in place almost since the beginning of newspapers. The Post itself has admitted that its Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers now provide almost half its revenues. Which is why I found this post on the Nieman Journalism Lab so interesting. The New York Times is using its three-year-old Knowledge Network to offer online classes to readers for between $125 and $185 a pop. But the real news is that 3 of its well-known columnists -- Nicholas Kristof, Gail Collins, and Eric Asimov -- would teach classes in the network. A spokeswoman said that only "a handful" of reporters participate in the nearly 100 courses offered. But it makes me wonder -- if these 3 courses take off, how will the New York Times resist the temptation to tap other star reporters and columnists to participate in the Knowledge Network? And one has to wonder what the sales people at the Washington Post and other newspapers are brewing up to bring in revenue to replace that lost by the drop in advertising. Food for thought...

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