A Big Secret Meeting to Save Newspapers, 10 Years Too LateS

A group of newspaper CEOs is planning a hush-hush meeting this week outside an industry convention. First, they'll have a barely-legal chat about all charging for online content. Then? Oh this is hilarious:

The next item on the agenda is "how to recover some of the classified advertising business that has been usurped by Craig's List [sic] and others," media consultant Alan Mutter hears.

Craigslist began in 1995; by 1999 it eclipsed its hometown newspaper as a place to find a job or an apartment. By 2003 it was drawing an estimated $7 million per year in revenue, by 2005 around $15 million.

This year, when revenue should be closer to $100 million, talking about beating back the threat is a severely tardy waste of breath, particularly if the goal is near-term moneymaking opportunities. (Perhaps the newspaper executives should ask for remedial reading assignments to figure out why this is so.)

Other topics, via Mutter:

:: Whether to demand payment from aggregators who now freely link to content from their sites.

:: How newspapers might get a greater share of the $10.8 billion in search revenues that represented 46% of all U.S. online advertising revenues in 2008.

There will be at least one lawyer present to ensure the participants don't engage in collusion. Given what such collusion would apparently involve — charging for content, banning unpaid inbound links and dropping out of Google — this attorney might as well be known as a suicide prevention counselor.