Editorial: Newspapers must adjust to changing business climate

The conversion of the venerable Seattle Post-Intelligencer to an Internet-only news source — with a staff of 20 in the newsroom rather than the 165 who were there a day earlier — following closely on the death of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, is another sad milestone in what we prefer not to call the demise but the forced transformation of the newspaper business.

A suggestion from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that is actually constructive might offer part of an answer, but we in the newsgathering business are in the throes of a fundamental rethinking of a business model that no longer works.

Although Freedom Communications — parent company of the Clovis News Journal — did not lose $14 million last year as did the P-I, it is hardly a secret we are facing financially challenging times.

When we read the headline about Rep. Pelosi trying to help save the San Francisco Chronicle — whose owner the Hearst Corp. has warned it might have to close the paper if it can’t achieve dramatic cost savings — we wondered if she was proposing a bailout. But her proposal is more subtle and more constructive.

In what a Chronicle story called a “carefully worded letter,” she wrote to the Justice Department urging it to take a more expansive or liberal view of the nation’s antitrust laws than it often does (and might be expected to do in a Democratic administration).

Such a view, the Chronicle story said, “could smooth the way for future discussions of a merger or a consolidation of advertising, distribution and other business operations between the Chronicle and the Bay Area News Group, which owns the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times and the Oakland Tribune.”

Presumably such an arrangement could cut costs considerably for all the papers.

We have no way of knowing whether such an arrangement, which under certain interpretations of antitrust laws could be seen as illegal collusion, is likely to be forthcoming soon or would save enough money to salvage the Chronicle and other metro newspapers. But it might help.

Ultimately, of course, if newspapers as sources of news and as aggregators of news and commentary from other sources are to survive, we will have to adjust to the changing and challenging technological and economic circumstances in which we find ourselves and learn to serve our customers better.

We are striving mightily to be better, faster and more useful with limited resources, and we welcome your constructive suggestions.