John Gruber recently floated the notion that big newspapers are failing (while startup news operations are succeeding) because of bureaucracy. Mark Bernstein promptly disagreed, but, I’d like to note, doesn’t really disagree so much as quibble over semantics.
The fact is that both authors have a valid point: Gruber is right that large news organizations are struggling to support an infrastructure that they’ve built over profitable years producing a paper product. And Bernstein is right to say that this extra weight is not “bureaucracy,”— it’s muscle.
But if a newsroom is muscle, then the ad revenues are a newspaper’s skeleton, and we’re dreadfully short on Vitamin C. News startups (like TPM media) are growing because their “muscle” is proportional to their “skeleton.”
So what should a newsroom do? Maybe they should jettison the extra muscle. A strong but unemployed editorial department does no one any good, and the staff necessary to produce and distribute the paper product are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Once that starts working, we might see more dailies abandoning their legacy products.