The imperative to work together has grown with the decline of newspapers' old model, under which most publishers enjoyed a local monopoly and let advertisers come to them, said Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., CEO and publisher of The Washington Post and chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, which organized the meeting being held this week at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
Now competitors are at the gates and advertisers are becoming increasingly remote, compelling papers to cooperate more aggressively in areas like national ad sales and internet ventures, Mr. Jones said.
Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, suggested that the industry could learn something from cooperating more with its readers. "This wisdom-of-crowds thing is real," he said during an on-stage interview with PBS host Charlie Rose. There is no substitute for professional writing, editing and fact-checking, he said, but Craigslist's successful model involves listening to what people are saying, following through -- and doing it again.
"This is a time of creative destruction," Mr. Newmark said. "There's a lot of opportunity right now. I do have a great deal of sympathy for people who run printing presses" -- paper is too expensive -- "but even the kids realize that news is real important."
'Shared sense of commitment'
John Sturm, president-CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, said the association is fighting legislation proposed to restrict pharmaceutical advertising to consumers; conducting research that shows newspaper-website traffic is growing more quickly than the internet as a whole; and planning a board-level examination of its own priorities during this time of "transition" for newspapers. "We have to continue to work together closely and productively and with a shared sense of commitment," he said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged newspapers to tackle substantive issues more often and reduce the attention they pay to highly charged ideological blow-ups, like the fight over Terri Schiavo. Inflammatory headlines and controversial subjects may sell newspapers, Mr. Bloomberg said, but the country needs the fourth estate to tell people "what's going on."
However, the crowd was well aware that Mr. Newmark and Mr. Bloomberg don't face the same pressures as newspaper publishers. "We have no advertisers to keep happy, no investors to keep happy, which is a relief," said the Craigslist founder, earning a few envious groans from the audience.
And the mayor has already won re-election -- and with it some validation, despite his businesslike demeanor that's in stark contrast with that of his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani. That's why he was able to boast, describing his work with mayors across the country, something that publishers fear at their papers: "We focus on things the public doesn't care about."