So who do we lock in the room with a whiteboard and a laptop…

…to figure out the answer to the $4.5 billion question: “What’s the new business model for newspapers?”

At last night’s Who Needs Ink? panel discussion, everyone punted on that question, but Jerry Ceppos (to my delight) again insisted that newspapers need to stop screwing around and devote a large chunk of their staff to the online product. I’m not sure that’s a business model (in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not), but it’s a step in the right direction.

Ceppos has been the “Editor in Residence” at the SJSU School of Journalism & Mass Communications, leading a series of discussions with students, faculty, and staff about the various issues facing newspapers. Photojournalism student and Online Editor at the Spartan Daily, Shaminder Dulai, has some thoughts on some of what Ceppos had to say this semester:

Ceppos was asking us for ideas, but he was also commenting on those ideas, discussing those ideas, and reflecting on his newspaper past and discussing how what we are suggesting would fit into the future of media and how it can be used in newspapers. More importantly he discussed how all the things we were suggesting are doable and then tried to explain why it is not being done.

I liked his approach. I personally don’t like the dry behind the podium one-sided “talk at you” speakers that come through SJSU every week, and during my time as a photographer on the Spartan Daily I covered more than my share of these. Ceppos tried to get the crowd actively involved with the discussion and that is perfectly in keeping with the ideas he was trying to get across.

The future of media and newspapers is like Ceppos speech. An interactive, “talk with you” ever-evolving, changing on the fly according you your feedback, revolutionary in delivery, and unique take on a classic traditional style.

Shaminder’s right: The conversation about the changing newspaper needs to reflect what we’d like the finished product to look like, and vice versa.

So who do we lock in the room? Certainly studied old hands like Ceppos belong in the conversation, as well as current editors, advertising directors, and staffers.

But what about readers?

In comments on my post about last night’s talk, Janet DeGeorge writes: “There is NO conversation going on including all parties, everyone is assuming…heck, there wasn’t even a READER involved in your conversation”

It’s a good point – Newspapers need to engage their readers to find out what they really want. That was part of the discussion last night, although no one went into great detail about how to do that. Ceppos had talked previously about listening to readers, and I’m the first one to cheerlead for things like Editor Blogs and forums where readers can participate in discussions about what they think their local paper should do.

Part of me wants to ask “But what about the readers who aren’t online?” but another part of me finds it simpler to just say “Deal with the opinion leaders and the rest will fall into place.”

What do you think? Who should be in on this conversation? Everybody? Probably, but who do you think is specifically missing from the conversation?

Silicon Valley gazillionaires all pass on the Merc

Thanks, but no thanks, say New Media moguls and other companies and individuals with money to burn. The LA Times says no Silicon Valley moneymakers are stepping up to buy the San Jose Mercury News … then again, the LAT article doesn’t say much, but there are more links and commentary on the Knight Ridder orphan papers on the Peninsula Press Club blog and, of course, at Romenesko.

Bids on the 12 papers that make up the leftovers of McClatchy’s KR purchase are due today.