Friday, May 29, 2009

Newspaper Titans in Secret Meeting to Decide Their Future -- and Yours

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2009 at 11:40 AM

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Top executives from Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, were among a select group of newspaper heavyweights who assembled in secret Thursday for a series of hush-hush discussions, including the possibility of charging for Web content.

The meeting, reports Atlantic magazine's James Warren, took place at a hotel "located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O'Hare International Airport. It's perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

Writes Slate's Ben Sheffner:

"Warren likens the Rosmont confab to the Yalta conference or, perhaps, the infamous 1957 mob summit in Apalachin, N.Y. But if the news honchos aren't very, very careful, the more apt analogy may be a 1994 meeting in a Hawaii hotel room at which representatives of agricultural-products giants gathered under the guise of a trade-association meeting to fix prices for a chemical called lysine -- a story that ended up with federal criminal convictions and Archer Daniels Midland and others paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fines (not to mention a movie starring Matt Damon.)

Others attending included titans from the New York Times, Gannett, E.W. Scripps, McClatchy and the Associated Press, all of whom have at last come to the startling realization that their predecessors -- back in the days flush with ad revenues -- grossly underestimated the significance of the Internet.

Even if nation's biggest papers are finally dragged into charging for at least some of their online content, is it all too little, too late?

We'll keep you posted.

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