05/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Extra! Extra! Newspapers Need an Overhaul, Not a "Rescue Plan"

Ever been to those "The Future of Journalism" media panels? They sound more like "Old Scribes Mourn the Past" panels. And the panelists invariably look like Statler & Waldorf, the two old Muppets sitting in the opera box seats.

The Journalism Establishment has a tough time seeing new media as its own freestanding opportunity. Instead, new media is a "crisis" to cope with. The coping mechanism is "How do we stop our print-related revenue from hemorrhaging!?!," instead of "Here are some terrific platforms we can exploit to transform news reporting and consumption!"

"The Internet promotes self-expression and citizen journalism," the Old Guard mumbles in lip-service homage to new media. That's talking the talk. But they don't always walk the walk, by skillfully transforming their enterprise -- until it's too late.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Rocky Mountain News. The Baltimore Examiner. The San Francisco Chronicle. All have gone kaput, by either ending daily publication or announcing their imminent demise. A few other papers, including those owned by the Tribune Company, have filed for bankruptcy or ordered severe cutbacks. And NYT has threatened to sell off the Boston Globe.

Now Congress may Detroit the newspaper biz - it's contemplating a rescue plan of sorts. In a letter to the "Boston Globe family," Sen. John Kerry declared his determination to help save newspapers. The Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as non-profits, if they choose, under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting.

But any viable rescue plan for newspapers MUST integrate new media in their operations from bottom up, rather than "tack on" new media as an afterthought to failing operations. It's not about improving entrenched systems, it's about re-booting the system entirely. But Statler & Waldorf, of course, are wedded to tired business models, dated industry practices, and old ideas of prestige.

Minutes ago, the Pulitzer committee announced this year's winners. It is 2009, people. But the Pulitzer Prize committee has just broadened its awards to include online-only publications (devoted to original news reporting)!

Hmmm.... makes you wonder. This industry doesn't need a "rescue plan," so much as an overhaul.