Save journalism, not newspapers

We're seeing a lot of talk lately about taking newspapers nonprofit.

I've been saying for a year now that all media organizations need to separate creation from distribution. Newpspaper are a good place to start because their distribution model is so broken, the industry is so troubled, the savings potential is huge, and the opportunity is vast.

Creation, especially of quality journalism, is a very small part of the total budget of the newspaper business. Once you take out presses, trucks, paper, rewriting wire copy, rewriting press releases, soft features, laying out pages, and overhead, the actual cost of gathering, writing and editing the news that matters to the continuing function of our democracy is a pretty small part of the total cost of journalism. And it's the part that is most worth preserving.

Modern national and international news organizations already are beginning to look more like wire services than newspapers. It may be time to move that model down to the regional and metropolitan level, as well as up from the ultralocal level to neighborhoods and communities.

By separating creation from distribution, we can create newsgathering organizations that are efficient, worth preserving, and very cheap compared to the cost of supporting them. Matt Yglesias gets this, although I'm not certain I'd endow all the organizations he's considering. I'd prefer to endow entirely new newsgathering operations whose primary purpose is informing the public.

The bigger news is that all media properties need to think harder about separating content from distribution, and not confusing the two.