It was quite telling and not a little ironic that news of the pending sale of The Press Democrat this week broke not in any newspaper, but on the Internet.
Yes, the same World Wide Web that is both the bane of the newspaper industry, and its future.
The announcement of a deal in which the New York Times Co. sells its Regional Media Group (including the PD) to Halifax Media Holdings was not supposed to be made on Monday. The deal, while apparently done, has not had all of its I's dotted and T's crossed, so no one was supposed to be talking about it.
It was close enough to final, though, that someone at Halifax altered the "about us" page of the company's web site to include The Press Democrat, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, the North Bay Business Journal and other NYT Regional publications on Halifax's list of "our companies."
Before anyone could say "Oops," a screenshot of the page was sent to media blogger Jim Romenesko, and the cat was out of the bag. The NYT and its regional publications had to scramble to catch up with their own press releases and announcements, including meetings with employees.
This is the new world of journalism. News doesn't break when editors or publishers decide it's time; it breaks whenever someone with a laptop or an iPhone decides to share a piece of information. With nearly 80 percent of Americans having access to the Internet, even the New York Times finds itself playing catch-up sometimes.
When the Times bought the Press Democrat in 1985, one of the first tasks on their agenda was to build the big new printing plant fronting Highway 101 in Rohnert Park. No one at the time imagined that one day the dissemination of news would not require printing — or paper — at all.
That's the challenge the industry faces today. It's why this deal for 16 newspapers around the country is estimated to be costing Halifax somewhere between $150 million and $175 million, when the deal for the PD alone in 1985 was estimated in the $75-to-80-million range.
The market for news is stronger than ever, and the need for a reliable source of community information is as keen now as it was when Santa Rosa's daily paper was founded in 1857.
The question that the NYT, Halifax and other companies are asking is, &‘Can we still make money at it?'
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here