I just had my first opportunity to examine last Sunday's print edition of the Joplin Daily and the criticism that it inspired is well deserved.
Beneath the newspaper's slogan, "All Joplin...all the time" is a package on Northwest Arkansas, including a large photo and a story that continues well below the fold.
The Joplin stories are on the bottom half of the page. One is the response of Joplin Mayor Jon Tupper to media reports about his son buying property next to Joe Becker Stadium, and the other a profile of the Southwest Missouri Arthritis Association.
The last few print issues of the Daily have been disappointments, largely because a little more has been expected. When you have a sleeping giant like the Globe as the top dog in Joplin journalism, it should be rather easy to put a few dents into it. Every once in a while, the Daily does. Every few weeks, the upstart publication scoops the Globe, but otherwise it has done little to make its website the everyday stop its creators envisioned.
Part of the problems with last Sunday's paper involved the location of stories. Why put the Arkansas package at the top of your display page when you have a package of Joplin stories on page three? It appears the main thing the Arkansas package had going for it was that it had a photo accompanying it.
If that is the case, why not simply use one of the package of Fourth of July photos from page 8A, along with one or two of the page three Joplin stories and at least have a Joplin feel to page one?
It could be argued that the Fourth of July celebration took place five days earlier so it was old news. That argument doesn't wash when you consider that everything that is in the print edition is old news.
What is working for the Daily?
Judging from the people I hear talking about it (and there are not many), it's the school and sports coverage. They also like being able to read about a meeting shortly after it takes place and getting more details than what they are able to find in the Globe. The paper also has the advantage of an intense dislike that many have for the Globe. Unfortunately, after almost seven months of increasingly lowered expectations, that advantage may have already been squandered.
I am not privy to discussions about the goals of the Joplin Daily so I have no idea how much, if any, its ownership and publisher are affecting the publication. Is the Daily being told to totally emphasize good news and not do any digging into any of the problems that face Joplin?
Are there advertising-related features that are taking priority over news?
What the Daily needs to do
1. Scrap the GateHouse Media cookie-cutter website. It is not reader-friendly and it limits the Daily's ability to become interactive and useful to its readers.
2. Do not let the lack of manpower keep the Daily from becoming Joplin's information source. Use the advances in technology to help you and the answer is links, links, and more links. Offer links to everything Joplin, the school systems, the city offices, the public library, businesses, etc.
3. Keeping with the links: Since four people are limited in what they can cover, use links to increase your coverage. Link to Joplin-related stories in out-of-state newspapers, AP coverage, and yes, blogs and other websites. While I can understand the obvious aversion to providing a link to the Joplin Globe, why not link to every other site that remotely features Joplin news? That would include, but not be limited to, the Joplin Independent, Joplin.com, The Turner Report, and the Joplin television stations. The idea is to provide the links that will make Joplindaily.com the place to come for information. The more people who come, even if they do leave to go to the links after a few moments, the more who will see the advertising on which you are basing your very existence.
4. Continuing with links: Link to personal blogs in the Joplin area. I am not talking about The Turner Report, but ones in which the writers talk about their lives, their experiences, etc.
5. Provide links to legislation that affects the Joplin area, whether it be on the state or national level. When financial disclosure reports are filed on Joplin candidates, provide links to them. When the lobbyist reports are filed for each Joplin legislator at the end of the month, link to them.
6. Either eliminate the self-serving columns by local legislators, or even better, offer columns on the same frequency to their opposition. Adding voices adds readership.
7. Take major issues that hit the city and featurize them. Keep providing the nuts-and-bolts coverage, but blanket the website with information and features. A four-man staff can't be in as many places as the Globe, but if you pick and choose your stories and make sure your site is the top site for information on those stories, people will keep coming back.
8. Build a stable of columnists who actually have something to say, whether it be about Joplin, the region, the state or even every once in a while, the national scene (as long as the writer is from Joplin or has connections to Joplin). And please not these columnists who offer advice or health tips or that kind of drivel. If readers want that, there are better sites for it. Offer space to guest columnists or ask people to write about specific topics that are in the news. Find a political columnist or two. Find someone who can offer a historical perspective on things that are happening in Joplin now or simply write about the city's rich background. Find people who can actually write and turn them loose. Columnists are the lifesblood of a newspaper and so far, though excellent columns have been written (Michelle Pippin's patriotic columns come to mind), no one has stepped forward with columns that say, "Hey, I like what this guy is saying," or "hey, what is this idiot talking about?" Those are the kinds of columns that keep readers coming back.
I have no idea how the Joplin Daily is doing financially. I hope it is making at least enough money to keep it going. I have been there when newspapers have gone out of business and it is a sad thing. The community benefits whenever there are more voices striving to reveal the truth.