Syracuse, Harrisburg and the problem with newspaper ownership

The news is unsurprising but still a bit of a shock to see. Both The Post Standard in Syracuse and The Patriot News in Harrisburg, Pa. are adopting new, reduced print schedules. The Post-Standard will still print seven days a week, but only three of them will be for home delivery. The other four days will be smaller editions in Onondaga County. This will likely lead to job cuts at both papers. It's the latest move from Newhouse/Advance, which announced a similar move in New Orleans and Alabama earlier this summer (full-disclosure: I attend the S.I. Newhouse School for Public Communications at Syracuse University).

(Naturally, there will be the same kind of natural uproar over the Syracuse paper as there was over New Orleans. I know everyone loves New Orleans, New Orleans is cool, but that city has no more natural right to a daily home-delivered newspaper than snowy Syracuse, right? I'll wait for the petitions to start, for the famous national writers to chime in ...I digress)

In a lot of ways, this move is inevitable. It makes sense. And it's the right move. If you're upset about it, answer me this: When was the last time you bought a print newspaper? If you're a subscriber, good on ya. But if you're like me, you read the news online or on a mobile device. Your sadness is, on some level, about nostalgia as anything else.

Nostalgia's not a business strategy. The media world has changed, and continues to evolve. Digital isn't our future. Digital is our present. All of us in the industry - writers, editors, teachers, researchers, consumers - need to think like this. Newspapers are becoming news organizations. That's the evolution of the industry. All of us who read news online, we're part of the reason that's happening.

The problem isn't the fake print vs. digital dichotomy. The problem is media ownership. The problem is an ownership mentality that has tried to cling to old business models without creating sustainable new ones. The problem is an ownership mentality that looks at digital news and sees not limitless potential but only a way to cut overall costs. The problem is an ownership mentality that views digital news as an excuse for cutbacks, layoffs, furloughs and other job losses, draining newsrooms of talent and vitality.

There's no reason why a digital newsroom must be a barebones, barely staffed place churning out copy for page views. There's no reason why a digital newsroom can't be the kind of vital, electric room that anyone in newspapers fell in love with and that creates reporting that's meaningful to readers.

But as long as newspaper ownership views digital as an excuse for a cheap product put out by the leanest staff possible, there's no reason it will happen.