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Murdoch charges for content; Gannett closes my first paper

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Rupert Murdoch is apparently tired of all the talk about how to save newspapers; now he’s taking action. According to a report in Media Buyer Planner, Murdoch is going to begin charging for content in 54 daily newspapers that he owns.

tucson_citizenIt’s an action few publishers have been willing to take, but Murdoch must be tired of watching profits simply fall out of the bottom of this bottomless boat. At some point, and I guess he’s there, a publisher has to say, “The risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of doing the wrong thing.”

The big fear has been that people don’t want to pay for online content, and that if newspapers start charging online, readers will simply evaporate. I think all of that’s true, as I’ve written before.

But if dozens of newspapers make the switch in a short period of time, it might also simply change the expectation of users who have been getting their news for free.

This very well could be the watershed moment that gives newspapers a chance at a future. And while I am generally pretty sparing in words of praise for Rupert Murdoch, it’s a credit to him that he has the courage to do this.

Meanwhile, on a note of personal disappointment for me, Gannet has folded the Tucson Citizen. It was an improbable product — an afternoon newspaper in a small city with two newspapers. The survivor, The Arizona Daily Star, is the morning paper. It’s owned by Lee Enterprises (when I was in town there, it was owned by Pulitzer) and has operated under an unusual joint operating agreement for at least the last 25 years, in which the two competitors share circulation, printing and a building.

I’m not surprised, but certainly sad to see it go. It’s the first newspaper where I worked, in 1983 as an intern in the Teaching Newspaper program of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. It’s like watching them tear down your childhood home and replacing it with a fenced-in, overgrown and rocky lot.

I suddenly miss my editor, Mike Chihak, and my friend Don Rodriguez — niegher of whom I’ve talked with in years, but who taught me a lot while I was there.

Nobody who ever worked for the Citizen could feel right about this. We were always the White Hat, the Star was the opposite. The feeling was confirmed for me the one time I had reason to step into the Star’s newsroom, on the opposite side of the building, with separate doors and an independent security system.

I don’t remember why I needed to go there, but while the Citizen newsroom was bright and cheerful with white linoleum floors, the Star newsroom looked to me like the White House War Room — with indirect lighting and a black tiled floor.

Very mature of me. I know. But it’s a vivid memory, as was my entire time at the Citizen. R.I.P.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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