Newspapers for Sale

Americus, Ga., is an under-developed gem. It has some beautiful old homes, some even antebellum.

It’s the home of Atlanta Falcons Coach Dan Reaves, former Cowboy coach Chan Gailey, and the beautiful Windsor Hotel. Habitat for Humanity is based there, as is Georgia Southwestern University.

It’s the “big city” eight miles east of Plains (the Andersonville prison and [very moving] POW museum is ten miles in the other direction), and my personal webmaster, Tommy Bass, is a native of the place. He still lives in its historic district.

Oh, and if you want to own its newspaper, the Americus Times-Recorder is for sale. So are the Chillicothe, Ohio, Gazette; the Yuma Daily Sun in Arizona; the Key West Citizen in Florida; and the Medicine Hat News in Alberta, Canada.

All these papers (there are 130 in all) are owned by the Thomson Corp. of Toronto. Thomson is dumping everything but its flagship Toronto Globe & Mail “so it can concentrate on its Internet businesses.” Thomson wants them all gone by the end of the year.

You may have heard of some assets Thomson’s keeping, most notably the West Publishing Group, which runs the Westlaw database service for lawyers. Maybe, with the proceeds of these sales, they’ll buy some other things.

I mention this not to denigrate Thomson, or cite its action as proof (as if more were needed) that the Internet is taking over the world. I mention this to point out a huge Internet opportunity just waiting to be seized.

Let’s go back to Americus again. Who (assuming they had a clue) is in the best position to organize and advocate the Americus market on the Internet? Who has the credibility to (if they were interested) help Americus’s businesses get online and succeed there? Who has the megaphone to push Americus’s leaders into getting the broadband Internet access they so desperately need to grow?

That’s right, class, it’s the newspaper.

The fact that newspapers, which are still convinced (wrongly) that they’re “monopolies,” haven’t seized the Internet opportunity doesn’t mean they’re not the perfect platform for doing so.

Newspapers have the writers, the editors and the point of view the Net so badly needs to build local audiences.

Newspapers have the sales staffs and the market credibility to lure business online.

Newspapers have the contacts to link schools, colleges, and charities with their markets, volunteers and donors.

Now I’ll admit that no newspaper, or newspaper chain, has yet seized this opportunity. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which says it gets 21 million monthly page views, has done a better job than anyone, but the competition’s weak and their visibility isn’t nearly as high as they think it is.

Jupiter Communications says local online advertising will be a $2.7 billion market two years from now, expanding its overall share of the web ad market from 14 percent to 24 percent in the process. And that’s just the advertising potential – if you leverage that into local e-commerce, you’re talking serious money.

When Kurt Vonnegut actually gave a commencement address (at my alma mater, Rice University) a few years ago, the point he made most clearly is that most of us will end up, not rich and famous, but as ordinary men and women helping build our communities. He called this a noble calling. I agree with him. Here’s your opportunity.

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