Sunday, October 22, 2006

Solution to newspaper problems is increased local news coverage

Andrew Cline's Rhetorica blog often explores journalism issues from an academic viewpoint, but his latest post offers a common-sense solution to the problem that has faced print journalism for the past several years- declining readership:

What has worked in the few markets that have tried it: Serious local reporting. (I suspect that interactivity using the web may also work, but that's a long way off.)Let's get serious. It's the one thing American journalism hasn't tried in a very long time.

Dr. Cline goes into detail about what has not worked:

Here's a radical idea, a stupid idea, and idea so far out in the ozone as to be thoroughly without merit: Try taking citizens seriously; try treating them as citizens rather than consumers.

It's the one thing American journalism has yet to try in recent history. Shortening stories didn't work. More graphics didn't work. Putting fluff above the flag didn't work. Targeting free publications to young people didn't work. Shrinking the news hole didn't work. Cutting editorial staff didn't work. Cutting foreign news didn't work. Running wire fluff didn't work. Ignoring the poor and working class in favor of the middle class didn't work. Partnering with the advertising department didn't work. Speciality publications aimed at the rich didn't work. Re-design after re-design after re-design didn't work.

I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with two newspapers that attempted to stave off eroding readership by increasing news coverage:

When I was at The Lamar Democrat in the 1980s, Publisher Doug Davis tried a revolutionary approach (and one which can only be done one time at any newspaper). Davis doubled the price of newsstand copies, increased subscription rates and gave me the go-ahead to increase news coverage. We could not afford to hire full-time staffers at a twice-weekly newspaper, so Davis gave the green light to my idea of using a stable of high school and college interns. By using people like Kari Wegener, Peggy Brinkhoff, Amy Lamb, Holly Sundy, Randee Kaiser, Mindy Atnip, Cherie Thomas, Mary Lou Newman, and others, plus the indispensable Judy Probert, who served as a grandmotherly influence on the young staff, we were able to publish a paper that was jam packed with local material (and those young people did not just cover school stories either).

The second time I was fortunate enough to have an experience with pouring money into the local news product was in 1998 at The Carthage Press. After working for five years with limited money to hire either experienced reporters or skilled younger ones (though I was fortunate enough to have worked again with such talents as Kaiser and Ms. Lamb, and be there for the beginning of Brian Webster's career and again started the youth program with such finds as Cait Purinton, Stacy Rector, and Michelle Dixon) Publisher Ralph Bush opened the pocketbook and for nearly a year I had a chance to work with an all-star crew of reporters: In addition to holdover Ron Graber and me, we hired former Joplin Globe reporter Jo Ellis, John Hacker and Rick Rogers. Fallout from a frivolous lawsuit filed by Carthage native Terry Reed and interference from Liberty Group Publishing's upper management, shoved Hacker and me out the door by May 1999, but I would suggest anyone wanting to see what dedication to local news coverage can accomplish should get hold of those Carthage Press newspapers published between August 1998 and May 1999.

Unfortunately today's newspaper publishers and business managers (most likely on orders from corporate suits who have never written a story in their lives) have decided that the only way to make profit from newspapers to create a flurry of niche publications and special sections. The daily newspaper has almost become an afterthought.


Anonymous said...

Does the Joplin Herald still exist? I haven't seen it for several weeks.

Anonymous said...

you always talk about being shoved out by management when you were in carthage...but wasn't it your own defiance of management that got you canned? seems like hacker was able to get re-employed by the evil managemet that you so often refer

Randy said...

I don't know where you received your information from but there was never any defiance of management while I was in Carthage. John and I were both offered positions by Liberty Group Publishing (as the company was called at that time). John accepted the offer to be editor of the Joplin Daily. I ended up turning down an offer to work for Liberty in the summer of 2003 when I was offered a teaching job with the Joplin R-8 School District. It was a generous offer (I would have been receiving as much money as I had made teaching in Diamond) and would have had the opportunity to do investigative reporting and help train inexperienced reporters. I was grateful for the offer and I am sure I would have enjoyed the job if the South position had not opened up.
As for the previous comment about the Joplin Herald, it is still being published. I receive it in the mail every week.

Anonymous said...

There is no news organization--NOT ONE that knows what it is doing that serves Joplin.

Anonymous said...

The previous post is idiotic. You're a dope. Every news organization that covers Joplin serves it in some way. And if you want to make a point, try writing a sentence that makes sense, you knucklehead. Just because there's no news organization in town that spouts what you want to hear and believe non-stop, doesn't mean they're not serving Joplin. Go take another snort of meth you feeble-minded goat-fondler.

Anonymous said...

*gasp* *choke*

Anonymous said...

*gasp* *choke*

Can't... complete... sentence... argh!