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The demise of the Tucson Citizen has caused much consternation and hanky wringing among many in the community. They believe that it is a great loss to Tucson, and that plagues of frogs and locusts are sure to follow. They are wrong.

A newspaper is just the packaging of the real product. As Greg Patterson (espressopundit.com) has said, it is all about “content, content, content!” Let’s face it, if your 1975 Château Lafite Rothschild has turned to vinegar, it matters not how old the tradition, or prestigious the label, few will drink it.

Probably the most prestigious of the dailies, America’s “newspaper of record,” the “Grey Lady”, the New York Times may be following our Tucson Citizen.

In the January/February 2009 issue of Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn wrote, in an article entitled “End Times”, “Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400million in debt. With more than $1billion in debt already on the books, only $46million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good.” Not quite vinegar, but definitely souring.

The New York Times is not alone. Real Clear Politics (realclearpolitics.com) recently reported, “Over the last decade, no paper has lost readership at a faster pace than the L.A. Times… Three weeks ago, the Times announced that it’s trimming yet another 300 jobs and eliminating the local “California” section altogether. With the newsroom about half of its size from 2001 and the continuing cutback on staff and coverage, it may be a matter of time before the woebegone Tribune Co. must dump the paper to an interested buyer or even close it down.” Chianti anyone?

Not all of the nations papers are in financial trouble; some are actually doing quite well. The Wall Street Journal is making money with both its print, and online subscription versions. The relatively new online only The Politico, which focuses on Washington D.C. politics, is doing fine too.

Note that not all the papers in Tucson are in trouble either. The Explorer is doing well by most accounts, as is the paper you are now holding in your hands, or is glowing at you from some screen.

So, what differentiates good content from bad? There is no single answer to that rather complex question, but it always comes down to serving the customer. Content that is interesting, factual, and well written, it seems to me, will be in demand. The medium may vary from print, to online, or to something in between, but the content is the key.

Speaking of media, amazon.com’s new electronic reader, the Kindle, now in it’s second iteration, splits the difference between newsprint and glowing screens. If you like to just pick up and read the paper, this device will give you that experience. These new devices will hasten the conversion to a totally digitized product.

This approach may save some papers. Imagine the cost savings involved in going to a totally digital product. Think of the expenses involved in the purchase of paper, ink, and printing presses, to say nothing of the costs of operating and maintaining those presses. With a variety of different digital presentations from which to choose, including the Kindle, even the Luddites will be satisfied. The point is that advancing technology is not a threat. It is a boon. It is also inevitable.

The closing down of the Tucson Citizen does not bother me. The fact that it has been shrinking for years means the end happened a long time ago. Something will replace it, if the market so desires. The consumers of news in Tucson will decide if they want a daily counter point to the Arizona Daily Star. If we do, then it will happen. I do not know what the medium will be, nor do I care. It will be people with passion and a mission who will make it happen.

The future belongs to the quality journalists of today, and those to come, who will be producing great content in the land beyond the dead tree world.

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