Clay Shirky posted another great blog on Friday on Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. He has lots of great points, but comes back to my idea of past futures:

— Where did newspapers think they were going? He points out fears back in 1993. I was seeing challenges for newspapers as a banker way before that with the surges in Joint Operating Agreements in earlier years.

— Could they have done anything differently? He points out trials they had all done to change their business models. Music and video companies are in the midst of their own efforts in their own spaces.

We haven’t replaced the need for newspapers. They have gone the way of the CD, with instant transmittal and wanting pieces, not the whole paper or album. We wanted it customized, which the online versions of most papers still don’t get. We wanted to create and share, which some get in a limited way. We don’t need it just once a day.

Perhaps it isn’t the death of newspapers. It is the death of depth. Textbook publishers are being asked for chapters and mashing up books. I just got off the phone with an executive who, like me on some days, reads his New York Times and 7 other papers on his Blackberry. (This also influences my need for progressive trifocals that I have to wear by noon each day.)

The average person is of the prior blinking 12:00 VCR culture. I would contest that even our Digital Natives can use the tools, but don’t understand often what is underneath. We need the tools and aggregators for anything but the most digitally savvy of us to operate.

Could our newspapers have been the tools? Could they have become the aggregators?

They did get this with Career Builder, which is now one of the top job sites in this crazy job market, and is owned by Gannett, Tribune Company, The McClatchy Company, and Microsoft Corp. Tt is the circumstance, however, of digital pennies not making up the dollars lost. But maybe those dollars were only temporarily there to begin with. And maybe companies that are “temporarily” holding the cards on business models need to not think of those monies as “lost” but only theirs during these progressive transitions.

What could the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have done before closing their paper’s physical production yesterday?