The newspaper business is clearly not doing so well these days. Now, the MediaNews Group, which, among many others, owns the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, and Oakland Tribune, is trying to revive its business by going back to an old idea that didn't work in the past and surely won't work in the future: individualized, printed newspapers that users can print out at home with a proprietary printer.

Party Like It's 1939

Newspapers have always looked for alternative distribution mechanisms, and Popular Mechanics reports that as early as in 1939 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tested the idea of electronically sending newspapers to customers' homes. Martin Langeveld discusses the history - and failure - of personalized and faxed newspapers on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog in some more detail.

Giving Readers a Choice

MediaNews' Peter R. Vandevanter, however, seems completely unmoved by the earlier failures of this idea. In an interview with the New York Times, he argues that "individuated news" - MediaNews' trademarked term for this idea - will give readers the ability to "decide what they want to read and on what platform." Of course, readers already have this choice, and, in large numbers, they have made the choice that print is not the medium they are interested in. We also can't imagine that too many readers would want to have yet another printer at home that is dedicated to nothing else but printing the morning paper.

As Andrew Smith of the Dallas Morning News argues, all newspapers have to do is simply provide readers with customized feeds for their online readers. Then, if you really want to print your individualized newspaper, you could just use a free tool like FeedJournal  - and you don't even have to put yet another proprietary device into your house. Of course, if you already use Google Reader and you want a magazine-style feed reader that you can use to read on your screen, Feedly is the way to go.

CC-licensed image of dead trees used courtesy of Flickr users piglicker.