Could strategic bankruptcies be needed to transform newspapers?

Continuing on a theme: I’ve been discussing the apparent disconnect between the quality of a news site’s design (as perceived and rated by professionals) and how much time people spend there; as well as the kinds of things that count more than design: reader engagement, interaction, community, personality — real life behind and around the content.

In a comment on the second post, Phil Buckley, whose commentary I had quoted and linked to, asked: “If you were starting a news organization today, where would put your initial efforts?”

I like this, because it’s the key question that all news organizations should be asking themselves. If tackled correctly, it can be a transformative question, a way to self-disrupt the organization, a way to get through the wormhole of reinvention that newspapers are facing, and come out on the other side with a workable business model.

And indeed, forward-thinking news organizations are asking it. But in some news organizations (like Phil, I try to call them that instead of newspapers), the process of dealing with this question leads to an uncomfortable realization: the business model for news in the future is so radically different from today’s legacy newspaper business that there is no way to get from here to there without “a major restructuring event,” which is a euphemism for bankruptcy.

In other words, the viable business model they can glimpse — consisting, perhaps, of a weekend-only or twice-weekly printed byproduct of an online-first publishing operation — represents such a downsizing of the enterprise that it can’t possibly carry the company’s legacy debt load, so the only way to make the transition is first file Chapter 11.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.