Collusion is an ugly word.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has his otherwise perfect reputation stained by the owners collusion from 1985-87, and the normally problem-free BCS has been accused by those nasty Boise State and Utah fans of colluding against them, while any Economics 101 class will teach you monopoly, oligopoly, cartel and collusion are the four buzzwords that will earn you a fiscal time-out.
Still, despite the shameless robbing of baseball players for nearly a century — the Black Sox threw games because owner Charles Comiskey was the Nike of his time — and the muffled cries of our nation’s smaller states, collusion has gotten a bad reputation that needs to be shed.
Because frankly, it might be the only way to save newspapers.
Recounting the ways newspapers are dying is probably a waste of words, but here is a quick run down: The Rocky Mountain News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer both shut down for good in 2009, The Minneapolis Star Tribune spent much of the year in bankruptcy, The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal have a de facto merger taking place and newspapers across the country continue to make cuts in both personnel and content.
For those of us dumb enough to enter the Journalism school, the problem has become that bad kind of scary where we joke about it by day (I’m rocking three unpaid internships right now!) and cry before we fall asleep at night.
The problem is a simple one — the generations that read hard copies of news are slowly dying, and the once money making classifieds page has been essentially replaced by craigslist.
The solution is simple in one sense, too — the online model needs to become profitable.
Unfortunately, that is where any sense of simplicity ends.
For various reasons, companies are convinced electronic advertising is not nearly as effective as print advertising, so costs remain low to buy ad space online. And though a newspaper subscription has never been expensive, the completely free flow of information from the Internet has conditioned all new consumers that paying for news is un-American.
Which isn’t to say newspapers have stopped trying to find a solution. My hometown Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently launched an advertising campaign, “Changing the Conversation,” in an effort to appeal to and gather feedback from readers on what type of content they want to see. At the Associated Collegiate Press “Best of the Midwest” newspaper conference last week, Star Tribune Deputy Managing Editor Rene Sanchez exclaimed how incorporating multimedia into stories will help save the business.
These attempts make sense — but they still don’t erase the loss for essentially free content. This is where collusion comes in.
While certain media outlets have charged a subscription with some success — The Wall Street Journal has moved increasingly that way and ESPN continues to limit access of their unique insights to “non-insiders” — no newspaper has been brave enough to take the plunge and actually charge for their product.
Nor should any single newspaper be expected to. The risk of following down the path of The Rocky Mountain News and Post-Intelligencer weighs too heavily on all editors’ minds, and the fact is, if only one newspaper attempts the endeavor, consumers will manage to find free outlets for their news.
So in the path of the always ethical Bud Selig, newspapers across the country must collude, and all at once switch to a subscription based model.
In the words of the recession-proof Michael Scott, win-win-win.
Newspapers win because, well, they stay alive.
Consumers actually win because a profitable model means the watchdog role will be fulfilled — an impossibility if personnel cuts continue. Furthermore, all indications point to the subscription being relatively cheap (ESPN offers a two year deal for $2.50 a month, while The Wall Street Journal charges a hefty $1.99 per week) and since this is my delusional fantasy, I’ll assume the colluding owners would allow the subscription to stretch over all colluding papers.
And us J-schoolers win because those unpaid internships will turn into minimum wage 20-hour a week jobs.
A swift dose of reality suggests this is nothing more than a pipe dream — but dreaming is better than my recurring nightmare.
Michael Bleach (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in journalism.