Thursday, October 07, 2004

From Post to Post-Post

The news has been out for about a week now; the National Post has made a puzzling decision to drop Colby Cosh's weekly column. Not surprisingly, amongst the blogs I've read who have weighed in, roughly 0% have been supportive of the move.

Kate uses "satire", and includes a nice dig at Sheila Copps which is probably not strictly relevant, but funny nonetheless. Babbler and Monger reacted swiftly and profanely. David Akin doesn't take issue with the decision (bridges, fire, etc.) but displays a couple of vaguely frightening head shots, including the one Cosh uses on his own blog (self-promotional talent of a ham sandwich, indeed).

David Janes vows to cut back his newsstand grazing; SD has cancelled her subscription, and Kathy Shaidle at the Shotgun is "speechless", prompting a lot of sympathetic comments and one contrarian.

One thing I haven't read any musings on is why the Post would choose to make this decision (apart from, "they're idiots"). I don't know anything about running a newspaper, so of course, I'm going to take a crack at it right here.

Newspapers are composed of what I see as three major components: local news; national and international news; and op/eds and features (call it "original content"). Lileks regularly makes the case that newspapers should focus on local news, because national & international news is now so widely available and free (TEH INTARWEB and all). The National Post can't exactly do that - but they still have the same problem: who wants to buy a dead tree on the strength of news that is 12 to 36 hours old by the time they see it, and already moved to the archives at Yahoo! News?

That leaves original content as the only way for the Post to make itself valuable to anyone. Unique, intelligent, and/or insightful material that you can only get by buying the Post. Obviously, this creates problems for anyone trying to cut expenditures at the Post, because the sole way to get original content is to pay people to create it, and the more original content you want, the more you have to pay.

This is where I get quite confused: if I'm looking to procure original content for my newspaper, I'm probably going to hire talented freelancers, to whom I don't have to pay health benefits, pension contributions, sick days, etc etc. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get the services of someone who already has a bit of a following from his website, and from consistent high-quality work in other publications.

And if I'm really lucky, I'll get someone who is regularly original if occasionally esoteric. Andrew Coyne is a top-notch writer and thinker. If I had to name a weakness, it would be that you have a pretty good chance of guessing the topic of his column before you open the paper; three guesses would nail it 95% of the time. This is not a problem with Cosh - you get to learn about the Shriners, Monsanto, and Kennewick Man, among other topics, which might escape your notice altogether if you're reading yet another column about the state of federalism in Canada.

Back to topic - I'm hiring freelancers for my paper, which aims to sit to the right of the Globe and Star. If I'm really REALLY lucky, I'll find someone who can articulate a "right-wing" viewpoint with a socially liberal or laissez-faire bent, and consequently may be able to speak to readers across the political spectrum. [Note to reader: DO NOT neglect to follow the link in this paragraph.]

Whatever. He'll turn up somewhere; as he notes, he's still tabbed for "guest appearances" on the Post's comment page, the frequency of which are anyone's guess. Maybe the Post's market research tells them that original content isn't such a big deal. I noticed on the first Friday that Cosh was gone that they ran Charles Krauthammer. Excellent column, I thought, when I read it in the Washington Post online earlier in the day.

Maybe the Post is in extremely dire financial straits, and made the move hoping no one would notice, even though they believed it to be unwise.

Or, maybe they're just idiots.

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