29 May 2009

Future Tense

Top executives of leading U.S. newspaper and media companies -- including Gannett, McClatchy, the Associated Press and The New York Times, among others -- met, quietly, in an out-of-the-way location near the Chicago airport this week to discuss their future, according to leaked information published by The Atlantic.

Correspondent James Warren reports that charging for online content was a key topic.

"Cross one's fingers on their behalf, even if there's worry that some don't really possess the nerve and vision to exit a mess for which they hold significant responsibility," he writes. "During their days of print advertising plenty, the people in this room, or their predecessors, made the catastrophic, myopic decision to not charge. They gave away their expensive efforts for free. They by and large misjudged the significance of the internet."

But now, he said, it is "safe to wager that most attendees ... will be dragged into charging for some online content because they don't know what else to do." The question remains, however, whether the decline in quality of many newspapers will "give even long-loyal consumers legitimate pause about paying up."

The meeting was called by the Newspaper Association of America, a major industry trade group, which described the gathering as a discussion of "how best to support and preserve the traditions of newsgathering that will serve the American public."

Commenting about the barely publicized meeting on his Reuters MediaFile blog, Robert MacMillan points out that while industrywide cooperation is alluring, newspapers risk running afoul of federal anti-trust laws. Anti-trust counsel reportedly was present at the Chicago meeting.

Some publishers want Congress to approve an anti-trust rule change that would let them get together to solve the problems that "thwart them from delivering journalism" in the current media environment, MacMillan says.

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