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October 22, 2008 / Toby Dayton

Dean Singleton Is Exactly Why Newspapers Deserve To Die

In a speech to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton stated that newspapers should look at outsourcing and off-shoring not only their ad-production and non-editorial functions, but also the news desk. He also added that larger newspaper companies with multiple dailies should consolidate all the news desks to cut costs. “One thing we’re exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews … maybe even offshore,” he said during the speech.

Daily newspapers need to cut costs and they should explore ways to outsource certain aspects of their business, even sourcing labor and services and various components of their workflow overseas. Newspapers also have to consider radical changes to their business model in order to survive the bloodbath that is taking place in the industry. But consolidating news desks among dailies and shipping that function to India is precisely the type of backwards, old-school, slash and burn, amputate ’til you kill the patient mentality that is exacerbating the problems the industry faces.

Again, newspapers need to cut expenses to appropriately align cost structures to a rapidly declining revenue base. The recent decision of the Tribune and a few other dailies to cut their subscription to the AP Newswire service makes sense. Forcing journalists to write more than two columns per week makes sense. Trimming labor costs makes sense, so long as the quality of the end product isn’t impacted too severely. There are hundreds of other examples of sensible cost cutting that have taken place around the industry over the past few years, many of which I’ve written about. But the problem facing the daily newspaper industry is far more severe than fat, bloated cost structures that need to be trimmed back. Cost-cutting only solves half the problem, and by focusing exclusively on cost and cutting too deeply, the ability to address the remaining half of the problem (stabilizing and then growing revenue) is severely impaired. Football teams cannot win playing their defense for the entire game.

When the Denver Post looks exactly the same as the Detroit News, and neither looks any different than Google News, local daily newspapers are done. Game over. For certain, dailies have already been looking increasingly similar over the past few years and the game is most likely lost anyway (at least for most dailies), but consolidating news desks and shipping it overseas is worse than pulling your offense off the field, terminating their contracts on the spot, and asking your defense to take over for the remainder of the game. It’s akin to pulling your entire football team and replacing it with the soccer team. It’s a completely nonsensical move that will simply accelerate the inevitable death of every single one of MediaNews Group’s daily newspapers.