The media’s fascination with Aaron Kushner’s print-centric approach to reviving the newspaper business continues.
Kushner, a former Boston greeting-card executive who bought the Orange County Register a year ago, is the subject this week of flattering pieces by Rory Carroll in The Guardian and Rem Rieder in USA Today. Rieder’s piece, significantly, focuses on Kushner’s plans to launch a paper in Long Beach, Calif., that would compete with one run by John Paton, whose “Digital First” orientation puts him at the opposite end of the spectrum from Kushner in any discussion about the future of news.
Kushner, who once wanted to buy The Boston Globe, has a big idea: that newspapers have a lot of life left in them, and that the way to save them is to bolster shrunken news staffs and ask readers to pay. Print and online readers of the Register are charged the same price — $1 a day.
There’s a lot to like about the Kushner approach. It’s hard to argue with more journalism and an end to a generation’s worth of endless newsroom cuts. Even more enticing is that he holds out the hope that the last 15 years have all been a mirage — that we never should have responded to the disruptive changes brought by the Internet, and that, even at this late date, we can somehow click our heels three times and it will all go away.
It’s too early to rule out the possibility that Kushner might succeed. But classified ads, which comprised about 40 percent of a typical daily newspaper’s revenues as recently as a dozen years ago, are gone and are not coming back. The Kushner approach is an open invitation for an enterprising television or radio station to bolster its website and offer a free, comprehensive source of local news. It’s also a little disconcerting to see a large, important paper like the Register cut itself off from the sharing culture of the Internet.
Still, it’s hard not to wish Kushner well. Even if you’re not a print nostalgist (I’m certainly not), his experience may offer some lessons from which we could all learn.