How to Save the Merc in 8 Easy Steps

There’s a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the Save the Merc campaign launched by some of the writers of the San Jose Mercury News in the hopes of finding a buyer who will save the newspaper.

First, I think the Mercury News is a good paper and while I don’t read any newspapers in their native online or offline format, it has been a bookmark of mine for a long time.

The reality is that the Merc can’t be saved. Not in its current format. Because traditional newspapers are in the twilight of relevance and the verge of obsolescence. In one of my favorite quotes of the year so far, Steve Rubel summed up the future thusly:

Flash forward 10 years from today. We will look back and laugh how quaint it was that we received our news on dead trees. Yes, I am saying the word “newspaper” will be a misnomer. News will be delivered automatically each day, not by the paper boy, but via wirelessly enabled e-paper devices that are easy to read. All of it will be powered by RSS.

If someone wants to really save the Merc, here’s exactly how to do it:

1) The first thing we do, is kill all the pop-up ads. A hip, forward thinking organization should know better.

2) Drop the print version. Gone. No More. Nada.

3) Go completely online. Sell text-based and static ads. No flash and no pop-ups. Require a free registration to get most (but not all) content online and require free subscribers to accept one email per day with special subscriber features and, of course, targeted ads.

4) Create a premium subscription, required to get all content, including some audio-video content. Sell these subscriptions for something close to the cost of a current newspaper subscription. In addition to all content, this will include the ability to search archives at no additional cost and some sort of bookmarking, tagging feature for future reference.

5) Create a complete RSS feed of the paper, organized by section- just like the print edition (Front Page, Local, Business, Sports, etc.). This would be a better organized version of the many RSS feeds that are already available. Create an online application that will allow subscribers to customize their subscription feed to include just the parts they want. The idea would be that each user could receive a custom edition of the paper via a single RSS feed.

6) Sell that feed as a subscription (as an alternative to the online edition and with a discount for people who want both the online and RSS editions). This is the future of news distribution, and the place to spend the most time and effort.

7) No adds in these feeds. None.

8) Once you make this move and perfect the online delivery of news, create a subsidiary to sell transition services to every other newspaper in the world as they follow you online.

This is the way to save the Merc.

Whether the saving is done by the new owner or some other owner, who likely would not be a traditional newspaper company, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that one of the best newspapers in one of the most tech focused parts of the world with the highest percentage of tech readers is available to blaze the trail into the future of news distribution.

So someone should step up to the plate and do it.

Everything else is either delaying the inevitable or wishful thinking.