Two recent news stories remind us of some of the things that newspapers don't (necessarily) do (any more)
(1) print their own newspaper
(2) write the words that go in it.
(1) The Boston Herald is outsourcing its printing operation to Dow Jones, and the Patriot Ledger and the Enterprise are outsourcing their printing operations to NYTco's Boston Globe. This is nothing new - last year the San Francisco Chronicle outsourced its printing to a Canadian company and the Daily Breeze in Torrance, California, also prints 70,000 copies a day on someone else's presses.
(2) Last year the Express cut its business desk and moved to outsource City and financial content to PA. (The newswires themselves are also outsourcing with Reuters moving various wire-reporting jobs to Bangalore.) New Zealand's APN outsourced much of its sub-editing and design (Buzzmachine). PasadenaNow (not a newspaper but a local news website) outsourced its City Hall local coverage to journalists in India. Blogburst syndicates blog content to various newspapers including WaPo, the Houston Chronicle and Gannett. According to Journalism.co.uk, Trinity Mirror is reverse-publishing user-generated content into hyperlocal print freesheets around Teeside (one of the most conceptually impressive newspaper innovations I've seen for a while, all plaudits to them).
What else don't newspapers necessarily do? A study from Newspapers&Technology shows newspapers outsourcing much or all of their IT functions. In Chicago the Tribune and the Sun-Times both seem to have outsourced their outbound marketing calls (apparently to the same company!) The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has outsourced its classified telephone ad sales operation to India. And of course other parts of the ad sales operation are being outsourced to Google (Clickz) by the biggest US newspaper groups - NYTco, WaPo, Hearst, Gannett, Scripps and more, while other newspapers have integrated classified operations with Yahoo! or Monster.
Of course, none of this in itself spells doom for newspaper companies. Nike famously makes no sports shoes but merely coordinates their manufacture and branding. When the Express outsourced its business desk Jeff Jarvis wrote that outsourcing forced newspapers to "decide what is core" to the business - what they do that can't be outsourced. We seem to be getting closer and closer to an answer to that question as different newspapers experiment with divesting
their internal operations of different operations that used to be carried out in-house.
And leaves...what? To my mind, validation. Newspapers may not write the words or stamp the ink on the dead trees or sell the ads or sell the subscriptions but for all the examples of outsourcing I can't find one newspaper that has outsourced the task of determining whether what gets printed is true. I've written before that the core value of a newspaper is in being trusted to let readers know what is true (which, incidentally, is why printing proven falsehoods is still the one sin that seems to lead to inescapable dismissal). Is it enough to show that absolutely every other function of a newspaper can (and is) be outsourced for us to conclude that validation is the core newspaper product?