The New York Times Company said on Monday it was in advanced talks to sell 16 regional newspapers, indicating that the company plans to focus on its core newspaper business – and digital subscriptions.

Personally, I think this is a missed opportunity by the Times to develop a new regional model.

In the article, it says that “the company’s regional publications have lagged, the steady decline driven by a drop-off in classified advertising and the migration of readers to the Web. In 2010, the Regional Media Group accounted for 11 percent of the company’s $2.4 billion in revenue.”

The flaw here is that most regional newspapers still believe they can reclaim some classified advertising revenue. Instead they should have been focused on reinventing their content delivery and other services over the past 5-10 years instead of mitigating their losses to top providers in specific verticals like jobs or automobiles.

While working in the digital group at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 1999 – 2006 I often felt like regional newspapers had the opportunity to increase their focus on the community while partnering with an entity like the New York Times for national and world coverage. How much money could they save by eliminating their contract with the Associated Press and restructuring their national coverage? What if they dumped national coverage altogether?

How much of that content is already 24 hours old? How many people have already consumed those stories through broadcast television and online – perhaps from the New York Times?

Regional papers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel could go back to being local experts, with personalities we recognize and respect. Personalities that interact in social channels and speak for the community that they are part of. Now you have a product that is differentiated and nearly impossible to get elsewhere.

So with that in mind, did the Times miss out on an opportunity to create a regional model that led with exceptional local coverage but utilized the resources, media platform(s) and best practices of the New York Times? As our world has changed, and how we report it, journalism has been forced to develop superior digital products – while monetizing them. Add in the opportunities with social media and regional coverage could be redefined.