Glenn Thrush of Politico writes that the demise of newspapers was inevitable, that nothing management could have done would have prevented it.
"Nobody who asserts that newspaper execs have been arrogant and stupid will ever print a retraction. But as a print refugee (Newsday), I can tell you management saw the Web threat coming for a long time and tried everything, too much, to cope -- all to no avail...
The problem is that nothing works, apart from bypassing the industry model and starting from scratch...
But the Web is killing papers, with or without the intervention of idiotic (or inspired) management."
He's only partly right. Newspapers as they currently exist may disappear, but newspaper companies didn't have to. Management has played a big part in the demise.
The challenge is taking an old media company (think record company) into a new world (think itunes). It is far easier to start from scratch, without legacy employees and ways of doing things, fears of cannibalization, or reluctance to change.
But lots of companies have remade themselves, just not newspaper companies. It's not easy and there is a serious risk of failure. Management has to throw out sacred cows, have a clear strategy, and then only keep the people on board who buy into it. And be relentless.
Newspapers had to stop thinking of themselves as the MASS MEDIA in a world of niche, targeted marketing and advertising. Newspapers had the content, just didn't use it wisely. Instead of thinking of the sports section as a mass media vehicle, think of it as a conglomeration of niche markets, those who are interested in golf, basketball, or football. Take all the content--you've got tons of it--in each area and reconfigure it for microsites and email newsletters on specific topics--then go after advertisers who never think of buying the newspaper, but would want to reach golfers to sell them clubs, or the specific demographic audience that likes soccer or baseball. And because the audience is targeted, you can charge a much higher CPM (cost per thousand).
I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I don't believe in inevitability.