The man who founded the National Post says the newspaper is not dead.

Conrad Black made an appeal to newspapers to reclaim the high ground of journalism, in the face of digital media and television competitors that present little of substance.

Black, who sold the last of his stake in the money-losing National Post to CanWest Global Communications in 2001, accused newspapers of “defeatism” in the face of digital competition.

TV Conrad Black

Conrad Black says no business can survive giving its product away, and that's true for newspapers as for any other business. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

In an article in Zoomer magazine and in the National Post, he acknowledged newspaper ad revenue is down, but said papers must raise their quality and make themselves more of “a must-read.”

“As television information and comment steadily deteriorates into sapper-teams of extreme left and right idiots screaming epithets and shibboleths at each other, there is room for the newspaper to reap the fallout,” he wrote.

In an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Black said he believes paper versions of newspapers will be alive for a long time.

“It’s like any other business – you have to give people value for money, you have to give the people what they want,” Black said.

He said he agrees with newspapers offering alternative digital editions, but they should be charging for them, as some papers, like the Globe and the Toronto Star, have started to do. 

“Those who want it on paper can get it, but we will have much more serious online newspapers than we do now,” Black said.

“No industry in history has survived on giving its core product away – you can’t do it. We’re only doing it now because we’re in transition,” he added.

Black said newspapers that offer better quality writing will capture the top 20 per cent of the population, including the most highly educated readers, that advertisers would like to appeal to. That’s a business model that he says ought to work.

“It’s not a matter of getting everything, it’s a matter of getting a digest and it can be done and put in a formula that people like,” he said.

Black, who faces an Ontario Securities Commission hearing later this year over former media firm Hollinger Inc., will appear on Zoomer TV beginning in October.  He served 29 months in a U.S. prison after being convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice.