Deseret News President and CEO Clark Gilbert rattled quite a few cages with his keynote address before last month's inaugural Multimedia Key Executives Conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.
In a nutshell, Gilbert's message was this: The newspaper industry has another three years to make the changes it needs to make. After that, whatever condition it finds itself in 2014 will likely be where it will remain.
"A complete transformation is necessary to move forward and to be competitive" with new businesses entering the marketplace, he said.
"The industry is forever broken. It will bounce again, but three years from now will be the permanent reality." (See our coverage on page 38.)
Clark is the latest industry exec to sound what to many is a familiar call to action: Transform or die.
But you know what they say about the devil and those pesky details. Knowing you have to change is one thing: Knowing how to change is quite another.
Clark's advice is to concentrate on digital, partner with other media outlets and, most of all, understand your costs. If it costs $10 for an AOL/Huffington Post to create content, but $200 for a newspaper to do the same thing, well, you can see the problem and you can divine the solution.
But here is the sobering, and to be honest, scary part of that admonition. What's the price society is willing to pay for the opportunity to read that $10 story?
There has been a lot of debate about the issues surrounding how content is generated for 21st century consumption. Sites as wide-ranging as Wikipedia to Examiner.com rely on a new breed of contributors - largely unpaid or paid just a fraction of what a newspaper reporter might earn - to feed their maws.
Is what's produced on these sites of poor quality? Not necessarily. Personally, I'm amazed by the amount of objective info on Wikipedia, and that the site has more than 91,000 active contributors, none of whom receive a penny of compensation for their efforts.
But free, or low-cost, is not without its perils. For years now, experts have been advising newspapers to concentrate on their core competency, which is the creation of credible, authoritative and objective news and information. Now we're beginning to hear that, yes, that's still the goal, but do you think there's any way you can provide that level of competent newsgathering for, say, 10 percent of what it costs now?
Remember: You get what you pay for. Look at the flak - much deserved by the way - that online "news" site Buffalo Beast got last month when its editor purported to be business executive and Republican party-supporter David Koch in order to gain an interview with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to talk about the politician's dispute with the state's unions.
Walker, assuming he was talking with Koch, shared some of the strategies he wanted to deploy in his battle. The site then posted the recorded interview, and the usual media onslaught began.
The Society for Professional Journalists was quick to condemn the Buffalo Beast's editor for his actions. The editor, it said, "should be ashamed not only of his actions but of besmirching our profession by acting so shamelessly."
Understand your costs. But don't forget what makes your newspaper the vital and dominant force in your community. It's the content, and not the freely available kind, stupid.