Agreed wholeheartedly with your editorial in the WSJ — and I’m speaking as someone who has had quite a lot of experience building, staffing and just generally sorting out new media (especially blogs, web video and the like).
One thing that occurs to me again and again — isn’t it possible that whatever comes after newspapers won’t arise until the newspapers themselves have disappeared? That is, if their business model is truly untenable — to the point that no amount of transformation can make it sustainable — then as long as they provide the (much needed) service that they do, doesn’t a kind of competitive exclusion prevent their successors from arising?
I realize this is no comfort to anyone currently in the news business, but perhaps the appropriate analogy can be found in the history of life on earth — in every ecosystem there are herbivores, keystone predators, etc., and as individual species or even whole classes of animal go extinct, they are, inevitably, replaced by something that occupies the same niche but may be quite different in nature (as in the replacement of dinosaurs by mammals).
I’m sure this will sound either naive or cold-hearted, but it is, perhaps, the truth: isn’t it the case that the solution to the problem “who will deliver the local news?” cannot be found out until the institution that currently does so has finally gone extinct?
Hopefully that’s just a worst-case scenario – it would truly be a tragedy to lose all the institutional and tribal knowledge embodied in the newsrooms of today’s city papers.