The Return of the Small Town Newspaper?

by mo on March 25, 2009

I admit it. I like newspapers and I prefer them to be printed on newsprint and able to be read without the benefit of a computer screen. I will be persuaded to give up ink-stained fingers I am sure. Oh but I do hate reading the news with a blinking banner ad and frankly don’t other people want to leave the computer screen behind for a brief moment? What I don’t want to give up is in-depth news reporting. I want the stories that reveal themselves over time and explore topics that need to be looked at by an objective journalist. And a good number of these topics are in fact local.

The industry is stuck in a business model that has to change or rather is changing from underneath them. We need good journalism, which is not the same as all the new methods to disseminate information. Anyone, who believes in the role of journalism as watchdog of our government should sit up and take notice. The challenge for the growing body of unemployed journalists is to find a way to get paid for what they want to do and what our society needs them to do.

Journalism has to stop defining itself by the container – newspaper, magazine, blog or broadcast. Neither is it the method of dissemination. The newspaper industry is being pushed to the side by a clutter of information. The other nail in the coffin is the fact that more people see no reason to pay for news when what some think accounts for news is so readily available. While I too enjoy many citizen reporters, as the internet gets bogged down with more and more junk the need to locate the true objective voice will become harder and harder.

Rather than be a crepe hanger and join the newspaper deathwatch, I have found myself thinking that the end result may be a shift back in time, when news reporting was really just local. In today’s world that may be better described as hyper local.

Catching the latest news from the national outlets is so easy to do for the segment of America that is plugged-in that we do not need a local newspaper or news outlet to provide it for us. (That there is an entire segment of our society who cannot get their news online is an important point to remember and comment on in another post.) Local and regional newspapers are currently stuck on the ideas of being a new aggregator for national news with an ever-shrinking emphasis on local news. Might they do better to reduce their focus on their own backyard?

Twitter, Linked in and the blogosphere can connect anyone to a virtual neighborhood that most of us could not have imagined just a couple of years ago. That said, at the end of the day it is a local grocery store or farmers market I patronize and I prefer to meet a real person for a drink and not via a tweet. I probably rely on friends for restaurant reviews, but I still need my local journalists to keep be informed about the local arts scene, local government and schools and introduce me to local businesses and organizations that I may never come across. As I find myself online for more and more hours of every day, my interest in engaging my neighbors in person is actually growing.

The new technology that enables all of us to become a citizen reporter is the same technology that advertisers, local and national, recognize can let them deliver a message in ever more targeted methods. (Think behavioral advertising meets big brother.) Advertisers and news reporters still need each other. They just need to figure out how to make it economically viable.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Laughlin March 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Journalists are starting to jump ship, and I don’t think newspapers can be considered the home for journalists anymore.

I for one can’t get over the arrogance of some journalists. In the late 90s many of these same defectors considered the internet a swill filled trench of misinformation. Now these journalists are clamoring for a place to let their opinions be heard.

I see newspapers and Detroit very similarly. This resistance to change, living with the status quo is killing some of the cornerstones of the American economy.

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modaly March 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I don’t paint all journalists with the same brush. There are quite a few very good ones who have tried to embrace new technology long before their editors wanted them to. Agree, the business model is dead for newspapers. I will just have to wait to see where some of the good talent lands. It takes a lot of work to do solid, in-depth reporting. They need to get paid for the work.

I blame the “big guys” for missing weapons of mass destruction. I worry that it could happen again.

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