Conrad Black on the future of newspapers

If his well-known legal troubles hadn’t intervened, it would be interesting to see where Conrad Black would have taken Hollinger after divesting it of much of its print media. Some hints are to be found in his current article in the New Criterion:

The most likely survival scenario for the more robust newspapers is intimately linked to technological innovation in home printers. There are those, in large numbers, who prefer to read from paper than a screen and also those for whom reading from paper is the only practical method of reading because of whatever else they may be doing or where they may be when trying to read. To reorient itself to the expiry of its old lifelines and to the accessible places from which a manageable future may beckon, newspapers will have to do two things: gather some exclusive attachments to writers with large followings of dedicated readers and build a loyal fortress of readers around their stable of writers and the good will in the brand. They will have to hire dozens of rewrite people to build an electronic newspaper, constantly updated, and connected to many other media files and features, and run it like a sophisticated version of cable news. At the same time, designer versions of the newspaper should be emailed to subscribers, to be printed out at pre-agreed times or as particular bulletins come in, in a format that more closely resembles a recognizable newspaper than a contemporary home printer can manage, so that it awaits the pleasure of the subscriber with that individual’s known news, comment, and entertainment preferences favored in the composition of the personalized edition.

To this scenario I would add the ability to incorporate any article from any writer/blogger/photographer, and to severely pare down the number of full-time journalists on the newspaper’s staff.

It would have been fascinating to see what Black might have accomplished if instead of being hounded out of Hollinger and then convicted, he had retained control of the company and had used the funds raised from the divestiture of Southam and other of his media properties to reinvent the print media. Then again, the new media format that he is proposing would be far cheaper to start and run than a conventional newspaper, so perhaps it’s too early to count ol’ Conrad out just yet.