Would you buy a failing newspaper?

Serious question as there is more talk about saving US newspapers and turning some of them into non-profit foundations. Staff at the San Francisco Chronicle are talking of a foundation bid for the paper (sort of like the Guardian) in an effort to save it with names like Craig Newmark floated as buyers/investors.

News of the San Francisco Chronicle follows similar talk earlier this week from philanthropist Eli Broad about the Los Angeles Times, whose owner Tribune is in trouble.

Broad said that the US can’t afford to lose good newspaper journalism, but added a caveat which was that he wasn’t sure that the Los Angeles Times could “be a national paper, or have the same aspirations it once had”.

Basically Broad is talking about reduced circumstances. About once great newspapers no longer being so great; local rather than national, which will certainly be the case with the Chronicle or any other paper that someone tried to save.

Broad also said (and it is a stumbling block for all) that “no one has figured out a good business model as of yet. Newspapers ought to be owned by foundations, not look for great financial returns. If several foundations are involved there is likely to be journalistic freedom”.

Let’s face it, the same thing could happen in the UK to the Independent. You could imagine people trying (and sadly failing) to save it in the not too distant future.

The Indy of all papers is in serious trouble. Sales of the Independent News & Media title were down 18.41% year on year to around 205,964 copies,

San Francisco Chronicle journalists are trying to talk investors into buying the foundering daily newspaper and restructuring it as a non-profit, according to the SF Appeal.

Apparently journalists would invest some of their own cash, a California Media Workers Guild representative at the San Francisco Chronicle told the Appeal, but even after a heavy write down from Hearst’s 2000 price of $660m they would need some serious money.

Gawker took at guess at who might buy the paper:

Old San Francisco money: if anyone is going to put cash into a hemorrhaging newspaper it is local billionaires.

New dotcom money: Seems a long shot, but maybe in a crazy moment of retroness those rich Google types might go for it. Maybe not.

Craig Newmark: is another the gossip site raises. The San Francisco-based Craigslist founder is a bit more altruistic than many of his Web 2.0 generation. Besides, with Craigslist he helped kill the newspaper market, so let’s face it he owes them. But even with his many millions he would need help from fellow multi millionaires. Craigslist makes around $100m a year, but the Chronicle is losing $50m.

Maybe predictably Gawker concluded that the outcome is more likely to be “it makes little sense to invest in fixing the old problems of a dying industry when you can net much more glory or profit starting from scratch”.

But who would enter a dying industry from scratch when the problem appears to have been is in the basic maths?



  • anton rush

    Yes. I’ve even worked for a few in my time.