Newspaper executives everywhere are rethinking their business models, trying to come up with fresh ideas to resurrect what the analysts, critics and new-world information disseminators are calling a "dying industry."
The future of news, all agree, is on the Web. The Web provides instant access to the 24-hour news cycle, while a daily newspaper lands on your doorstep once a day with yesterday's news. The Web allows a jam of news, information, documents, audio, video and the opportunity for immediate reader response.
So newspapers have rushed to the Web, providing no end of news, photos, comments, blogs, audio and visuals and an assortment of oddball things their brain trusts can conjure.
Using the old print model, they expect to sell lots of advertising around those postings to make up for their print losses. It hasn't happened yet.
(Incidentally, I am very aware that most traditional newspaper readers still love their newspapers. They tell me, every day, that they want to "hold" their newspaper and that they abhor the stampede to the Web. I am grateful for those readers, but I'm also aware that they are a dying breed.)
During the past week, a number of experts who think hard about the future of newspapers have debated the possibility of requiring Web readers to pay for the content they view. Some argue that newspapers simply shouldn't give away the stuff they've worked so hard to gather and produce.
The debate emerged after Walter Isaacson, a former editor of Time, suggested that newspapers ought to embrace the iTunes model: offer a listing of news and content, and charge viewers a penny, a nickel or a dime for each "hit" on the Web.
"The key to attracting online revenue, I think, is to come up with an iTunes-easy method of micropayment," Isaacson said. "We need something like digital coins or an E-ZPass digital wallet — a one-click system with a really simple interface that will permit impulse purchases of a newspaper, magazine, article, blog or video . . . "
Assuming this is a great idea, which I'm not, the immediate problem is in the practical realities. Micropayment companies have failed miserably, probably because so many of us don't care to jump through hoops to get nickeled and dimed for Web content we can likely find elsewhere for free.
On the other hand, the news content that viewers now get for free would all but disappear if newspapers fade away. For the most part, the likes of Drudge, Huffington, Google News and Yahoo! News scavenge the free stuff that newspapers provide.
The Herald appreciates the added Web traffic it gets when we're linked to the big-time aggregators. As journalists, we are mostly interested in spreading news. But, as a business, maybe we should instead place value on our hard work.
While the jury is still out on this issue, at least with me, I'm interested in what readers think.