Newspaper goes Ronin! (Sort of)

So, here’s an interesting development, as reported yesterday by Jim Romenesko. A “real estate entrepreneur and newspaper junkie” named Alan Smolinisky recently bought a weekly newspaper called the Palisadian-Post (of Pacific Palisades, California).

Now, we all know that newspapers have been struggling financially, and that many of them have had to cut back on reporting and editing. This, of course, creates a positive feedback loop. You lose circulation, which means you lose revenues, so you cut back on reporting, which makes you lose even more circulation, and so forth.

Smolinisky is trying a different approach, according to Romenesko, he

dismissed his circulation manager, business manager/controller, graphic designer and publisher so he could beef up editorial.

According to an e-mail from LA Times reporter Marsha Groves, quoted by Romenesko, thereby making this, like, triple hearsay and totally inadmissible,

As a result of the cost savings, the Palisadian-Post was able to restore writers and editors to full-time hours after several years of reduced hours and pay. The editorial staff was also given more color pages and a bigger budget for several new features that they have wanted to do for years. Alan also said every employee was given a raise for the first time in at least seven years. They don’t make much. I know of a seasoned journalist who worked there briefly for a salary in the $20Ks. Kind of shocking.

From a certain perspective, what he is doing is sort of obvious. He recognizes that the core mission of a newspaper is reporting, and he is putting his resources into that. But it seems like everywhere you turn, you hear stories about companies that are cutting the core of what they do, while maintaining or even expanding the “business” side of the business.

At universities, we hear about departments replacing tenure-track faculty with adjuncts, while administrations (and administrative salaries) expand. What if instead, you had a university that responded to financial troubles by diverting more resources to its faculty? This is, of course, purely a thought experiment, as it seems almost inconceivable that any university administrator would make this sort of a move.

The reason I’m writing about this is that it struck me as resonant with one of the things we are trying to do with the Ronin Institute. We are starting from ground zero with researchers, and trying to develop a lean, minimal support system, one that will allow us to focus as many resources as possible directly on the core business of researchers — doing research.

Anyway, I’ll be eager to see how Smolinisky’s experiment with the Palisadian-Post works out.

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