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Digital Dreams for Newspapers

Surprise, surprise: Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ  ) has hired a new executive in charge of spearheading a more in-depth approach to digital ventures. I'm sure a lot of us have already heard that newspapers have been struggling with circulation, while the good news has been focused on their online ventures. There's plenty of rumbling going on that the future is definitely online, and while many of us have felt that the writing is on the wall, it seems clear that the newspaper industry gets it.

Dow Jones has hired a former Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) executive, Ann Sarnoff, to help it expand into new markets and woo new customers. Dow Jones owns several well-known news sources that operate well on the Internet, including The Wall Street Journal,, and part of Smart Money.

Interestingly, Poynter Institute's journalism site Poynter Online recently posted an article pertaining to newspaper execs' attitudes at the Mid-Year Media Review conference from the Newspaper Association of America. Among the interesting observations reporter Rick Edmonds made was that many of the newspaper executives at the meeting were not focusing so much on their core, traditional newspaper operations, but on the great opportunity they see in their online properties and initiatives.

Indeed, the sense is that online revenues will reach 25% of all newspaper revenues by 2011, compared with an average of 6% now. And Edmonds' article points out that there's excitement brewing as companies try to think up ways to capitalize on what looks like a huge opportunity; he pointed out that many of the participants didn't even mention old-school newspapers until well into their presentations. One presenter supposed that once newspapers really gear up their efforts, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) might face bigger problems on the Internet than might have previously been considered.

Of course, this is the type of idea many of us here at the Fool have contemplated before. People may be changing the way they digest news and information, increasingly shifting to the real-time convenience of online newspapers (not to mention blogs and other more interactive mediums), and it hasn't been too hard to imagine that some of the bigger, national newspapers would be able to capitalize on the opportunities well. Consider names like Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) , which runs USA Today, Washington Post (NYSE: WPO  ) , and New York Times (NYSE: NYT  ) , all of which have directed a lot of attention to their Web properties.

As has been apparent in many areas of the media lately, an industry threat can also become an opportunity, and it appears that newspaper companies have become well aware of that fact. Change is under way, and it's about time for investors to consider which of these companies are best positioned to capitalize on the future.

David Gardner and his team of analysts look for the biggest opportunities that come from disruptive changes to old-fashioned industries. Clickherefor a 30-day free test run ofMotley Fool Rule Breakers.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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