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Newspapers wake up, discover Internet

This meeting is probably about ten years too late. And how do so many top executives meet without triggering an anti-trust investigation?

About two dozen newspaper industry executives huddled Thursday to explore how they might be able to boost profits from their online operations as revenue from their print editions collapses.

The meeting at a Chicago hotel is the latest indication that many newspapers intend to become more aggressive about protecting their Internet content and, in some cases, charging Web surfers to read the material.

I’ve got mixed feelings. On the one hand, I understand that news operations need to turn a profit. Reporters don’t sit through council meetings and trials just for fun; they’ve got to earn a living wage.

On the other hand, consumers will dictate whether and how news companies turn a profit. If news sites can’t draw enough eyes to monetize their operations by offering free content, they’re not going to last on subscriptions. The only news sites that will turn a profit as pay-for-play operations will offer specialized data to niche audiences, like trade journals.

Local news will survive, in print and on the web, but newspapers with a lot of national and international content — stuff web surfers can find elsewhere for free — will find it tough to collect subscription fees from anybody.

Sell ads or die, fellas.

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