Star Tribune's only hope: Endowment?

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The New York Times today features a must-read op-ed on the future of newspapers.

David Swensen, the chief investment officer at Yale, writes that we are in danger of losing the daily newspaper, and with it a vital source of community information.

OK, we've all read that story before. But what Swensen does different is try to propose a solution, which is that newspapers must be like universities, supported by endowments from wealthy community leaders.


It's a lengthy article, but the jist of it is all here in these three meaty paragraphs:

As long as newspapers remain for-profit enterprises, they will find no refuge from their financial problems. The advertising revenues that newspaper Web sites generate are not enough to sustain robust news coverage. Though The New York Times Web site attracted 20 million unique users in October, Web-driven revenues support only an estimated 20 percent of the paper's current staff.

As newspapers go digital, their business model erodes. A 2008 research report from Sanford C. Bernstein & Company explained, "The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face."

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America's colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.



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