If I bought a newspaper here’s what I’d do, and I’ll use the OC Register as an example (since I kind of worked there from when I was 8 until I was 22). This applies to a local paper.
1) Take the third floor (newsroom). Move them out and cut some staff. Put them in a big warehouse type space that was computers on the outside wall, and conversation areas inside. Make this warehouse in a public space, open to the public. Put in a coffee bar, open wifi and invite the consumer to come in. Leverage the content the consumer creates in this environment so that the reader is also the (co) writer.
2) Take the second floor (customer service). Outsource most of it, use Kayako eSupport for the rest. The other half (marketing), cut half the staff and put them in the warehouse with the reporters. Give them all good wireless technology and teach them how to promote responsible sales/marketing/advertising that extends local business reach in innovative ways
3) The Plant/press/pasteup/pagination: Good bye! You are a physical product. Not needed. I want the computers though from pagination. And the printers
4) Photo department: You already use high megapixel digicams. Give them all EVDO cards, powerbooks and integration with a good photo system for online submissions.
5) 5th floor – business affairs, the Taj Mahal executive suites… take you and your mahogany desks and retire in Laguna. Op-Ed, welcome to the warehouse! Time to get responsible ideology!
6) IT – please learn some relevant technology. Please get rid of your PC’s and closed-source systems. I will however take your Sun E450′s and install Linux on them. And the HP9000′s.
7) Graphic department: We like you. Time for 72dpi instead of lpi screens. Oh, and here is a copy of Flash 8 Pro. Realtime motion blur!
8) 4th floor – Accounting, circulation, dining hall, photo studio. Take a few from accounting, keep a few circulation people who can learn SEO and web metrics. Rebuild a good cove in the warehouse for photo-shoots (and keep the kitchen for food shoots).
So there is my answer (in short form). I think the power of a newspaper is getting diminished through the overhead needed to get the information to the world. The panic around the demise of analog media has caused massive compensation through the attempt (poorly) at revenue models in the online space, which leads to sites like http://www.ocregister.com and the LATime’s failed Wiki experiment.
It’s time to take the vestiges of the old media away, leverage what a newspaper like OCR is good at and really integrate it into a community.
To respond to some questions/objections
This was a semi-serious post, somewhat a pisstake and a venting of frustrations I had having worked at OCR for a long time, and having an active part in their Internet strategy from 1995-2001. In that time, I witnessed the paper trying to do what I envision, namely “listening post” newsrooms in the community and integrating that content within the paper. It ultimately failed as the company, while on the surface trying to “integrate” still wanted to keep the barrier imposed by media difference (they have 6 Goss presses, while I do not) as a method of enforcing information hegemony upon the community.
Mostly, what I would do if I owned a newspaper is make the newspaper a tool both for and of the populace of the community it served. A newspapers role is to hold a community accountable on all levels, whethern civil or political. A newspaper should treat itself as an asset for a community, a connector and a facilitator of discourse between people as well as discourse about people.
What I propose here, while not necessarily practical (it isn’t) is a situation that positions the newspaper in a hybrid state between a virtual community and real-world community, and serves as a facilitator for movement between the two, as well as a conduit for information flow between the two. Sure, its all puppies and pony’s on the surface, but I think the ideas underlying it are sound, and the evidence out there through online media and its effect on global discourse does little to counter-argue the basic gist of what I’m saying.
A caveat of course is that I work at a record label right now, not a newspaper.