Monday, June 26, 2006

It didn't take me long to get to the first post that will "not necessarily reflect the views of my employer," though I hope they don't object to my saying that newspapers have a future, however they view my analysis of the matter.

And just when I was thinking of dropping Slate from my daily media diet, Jack Shafer comes up with a column that I wish would end up in front of more people. According to Shafer, reports of the death of the newspaper industry have been greatly exaggerated.

(N)ot every newspaper will die an extended, lucrative death. Titles with national advertisers and distribution, such as the New York Times and USA Today have natural advantages. Small, local papers can survive by burrowing even deeper into their communities.

True, but I wish someone would tell the newspapers.

As Shafer notes, the media pie is being sliced into more pieces with each new technology, but it doesn't mean newspapers don't have a place, despite the hipsters who dismiss the "MSM" and "dead tree technology."

To spin the expression, I am less worried about the attacks from the newspaper industry's enemies than I am the defenses offered by its friends, particularly those newsroom folks who have, on ethical grounds, studiously avoided knowing anything about marketing, but now have decided to jump in and save us all.

Shafer is right about local papers. We can maintain our franchise by covering our local communities. The big metros have to worry about competition, but nobody is going to come into a small, isolated community like ours and create a profitable on-line site that will outdo our ability to bring together information -- unless we dawdle until the temptation becomes irresistable.

And, boy, do we know how to dawdle, amusing ourselves with wrong solutions to someone else's problems.

If you go to conventions of newspaper people, or read our industry journals, you get a lot of one-size-fits-all prescriptions that emphasize color and glitz and pooh-pooh things like "meeting stories." We need to be more dynamic and exciting. We need to compete with all the other amazing stuff that's out there, if you listen to the new experts.

These experts aren't new. Just newly prominent.

I've met few local features editors who wouldn't rather be working at People or Rolling Stone, but they used to be sent off to play in the features sandbox, far from the decisions about the "real news" that was the backbone of the paper. This is no longer the case.

Sure, a 30-inch story on a city council meeting is boring -- but that doesn't mean you don't cover it at all. It doesn't mean that, in its place, you run an airheaded profile of the newest tattoo artist to hit town, or an entertainment feature from the wire that ran on Yahoo! a week ago.

We need to smarten up. People have a lot of choices in media, but newspapers remain one of them. Will we always be printed on paper? Almost certainly not, though there are several more years before that delivery system plays out. But we're still going to be around, if we don't give up.

We're not dead. Kids will read the paper if you can get it in front of them.

Those little angels at the top of the page are local Headstart kids who get the paper every day and, starting in the fall, will be bringing it home on Mondays as part of Headstart's family support.

That not only gets them into the newspaper habit but will help reach their parents, a generation we have managed to avoid addressing in any meaningful way. My biggest problem is not the kids but their teachers, who are also of that missed generation -- they don't use the newspaper in class because they don't use the newspaper at home. And that's a wider problem than just an issue for newspapers.

Our national disengagement began not with the Internet but with TV and especially the cable explosion of the 1970s. It also began with the loss of family time -- the loss of dinner together and just general hanging out as a family. A generation of Mowgli children raised themselves, and the resulting lack of social engagement is a serious problem for all of us, not just people in the newspaper industry.

But that's a rant for another day. Here's a link to Shafer's column:


ronnie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ronnie said...

Let's try that again with a correct url :)

I was going to say "welcome to the blogosphere" but realize that I'd have to immediately throw myself onto something sharp upon saying something so unredeemably lame, so I'll just say I'm glad I can read a semi-regular column from you again. We need a lot more reasoned, thoughtful voices to cut through the rhetoric and vitriol out here.

This was a great article.

In a classic example of newspapers neglecting what they do well to dabble in what they do very, very poorly, our own local media monopoly (all the newspapers and radio stations in this province are owned by *one family*) has just revamped their collective website, (Warning: upon loading the site automatically starts playing video, with sound, unbidden, and the user has to find the "pause" button to shut it up.)

Between the automatic media load and the ridiculously short headline teasers which are useless for informational purposes, how do I hate it? Let me count the ways...