Commodity national news is dead. Newspapers are dying. The AP wire on Yahoo News (or Google's more heterogenous and more cluttered version) and CNN.com are "good enough" that all other services providing "just the facts, ma'am" provide no incremental value. Most observers recognize that this leaves a void in the local space, and predictably you see newspapers retrenching into their neighborhoods, fending off competitors like Outside.in, EveryBlock, and ESPN's local sites.
But newspapers have so much more than just news, and that's why I love to read them when I visit my family in St. Louis. I find value from the comics, the circulars, the coupons, the crossword, and, yes, the columns.
But why do I only read the paper when I'm visiting my mom and grandparents? Why, the NYT and Tribune executives plaintively scream, why oh why don't I subscribe where I live?
My biggest issue is delivery. At my former apartment in Chicago's Logan Square, I had no faith that any paper I paid for would still my at my apartment building's doorway when I woke up in the morning. I even subscribed to the free Saturday Redeye and it never showed up. My new apartment is one of those old houses in a better neighborhood near Somerville's Davis Square, and I'm considering getting the Sunday Globe and/or Times. But only on Sundays.
But here's the other delivery problem beyond just getting what I paid for: when the paper comes in the morning, I don't have time to read it. When it comes in the morning, half of it is stale the minute it hits the stoop because I read that information online the previous day and the other half is stale by the time I do have time in the evening. It's completely useless to me (again, except on the weekends, where my mornings are leisurely and my evenings are packed).
But this can be solved with a change to the content and a switch in delivery time. An evening paper that focused on analysis and columns, rather than the stenography that passes for reporting, would be fantastic. I could indulge with 15-20 minutes attempting the crossword; I could read the comics over a cup of tea (or a glass of bourbon or whatever your racially- and temporally-appropriate stereotype is); and I could browse through columns and analysis of new and interesting topics that aren't top of mind during the workday.
Giving up all pretense of presenting the bare facts of news would free an evening newspaper from the tyranny of the mid-day deadline. An evening paper as I envision it wouldn't compete with the evening news hosted by Brian Williams, Katie Couric, or Diane Sawyer. It wouldn't compete for the advertising dollars of incontinence products and life insurance. It would be more alive and it would be a better vehicle for television, movie, and other entertainment advertising than the morning paper or the evening news.
A new evening paper would require shunting aside any pretense of being balanced in favor of presenting a wide range of opinions (I think the Atlantic does the best job of this on the national blogging/magazine side), but it could easily be done given the newspaper companies' existing delivery infrastructures and brands.
And that's the way it is.
One related note, since this is being passed around this morning: I don't in any way believe we are nearing the end of hand-crafted content. Just read Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Felix Salmon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or any of the other brilliant writers who pump out fantastic free content with real, actual reporting on a near-daily basis, and you'll realize that at the national level, there's a plethora of great, handcrafted content. (BTW, are there any female writers - aside from Digby - who I should be subscribing to? Megan McArdle lost me a while ago.)
Maybe it's different if you're checking TechMeme every 15 minutes to see who gets "credit" for "breaking" some "story" about some "gadget", but the stuff that I read is great. Hell, just follow Paul Kedrosky; it's like the dude was put on this earth to create and share interesting shit that's perfectly up my wheelhouse.