Sunday, January 11, 2009

If Shopping Diva is the wave of the future it's time to shut the Springfield News-Leader down

Newspapers are on the decline.

That is an assertion that cannot be denied; we hear everyday about layoffs at newspapers, and newspapers going out of business, reducing the days they publish, or seeing their stocks become almost worthless.

Some of their problems, of course, can be attributed to the economy. Everyone is having problems, so naturally, newspapers are, too.

The internet has played a huge role in the decline of newspapers. Readers have shown a reluctance to pay for information over the internet and newspaper companies have yet to come up with a way to make money from their online products.

But the biggest problem, the one that has placed newspapers in jeopardy, has nothing to do with the economy or the companies' failure to find a profitable internet model. The biggest problem is that newspapers have almost entirely lost their connection with the communities they are supposed to serve.

Instead of covering the news and providing a vehicle advertisers would appreciate, they squandered their news staffs on one special section after another, many of which had no news value and no appeal for readers. Valuable reporters were assigned to do stories for these sections that almost no one read and the daily (or weekly) editions of newspapers suffered.

Whenever there is a crisis situation or a major news story, the newspapers make a big deal of throwing all of their reporters at it and offering blanket coverage, nearly always doing a superb job, but in between these major stories their publications were noticeably threadbare.

Staffs were cut and instead of having the remaining reporters actually covering news, many of them were assigned to trend stories. Instead of exploring issues that affected their readers, a tried-and-true method of building readership, editors, many of whom are carpetbaggers with no connection to their communities, chased the ever elusive goal of of being hip.

One of those newspapers that has sacrificed its obligation to its readers in an effort to appear trendy is the Springfield News-Leader. In the April 18 Turner Report, I wrote about one such News-Leader initiative, referring to a Journalism Jobs advertisement placed by the newspaper:

The News-Leader Media Group in Springfield, Mo., is looking for a columnist to be our shopping “person-about-town” and known for and looked to by our readers for insider info in print and online.

We are a community-focused news organization that creates deep local content for a daily newspaper, weekly newspapers, glossy magazines, several Web sites and a mobile site.

We’re creating print and digital features aimed at women and focused on the topic of shopping. Coverage will include explaining consumer and retail trends, reveling in the experience of shopping and telling our community where to find bargains.

The ideal candidate is an excellent communicator, experience as a published writer, has demonstrated experience in photography or videography, is comfortable with technology and the interactivity it brings and is highly collaborative. Experience in the retail industry a plus, as is experience as an on-air personality.

This is neither an entry-level position nor focused solely on fashion. We expect this columnist to be knowledgeable and comfortable finding bargains from all sorts of retail goods and services, from lawn tractors and flooring to house wares and designer shoes.

Several weeks ago, when the News-Leader fired a number of employees, including veteran columnist Sarah Overstreet, who, love her or hate her, actually wrote about issues that affected Springfield residents, the Shopping Diva (as the new columnist has been branded) remained on staff. Here is a sample from her latest column, the Daily Shopping Crave:

Sundays spent in the family room are almost always focused on the entertainment center. Right now, Wheeler's has a great deal on their wall-sized entertainment center (sale ends soon, hurry in). I like the hidden panels that cover the television screen when not in use.
When it comes to sound systems, smaller units are not the best choice for quality. According to Kenny Minor at Stereo One, the biggest mistake a shopper can make in buying a sound system is to grab a boxed kit and go. He recommends always auditioning a system -- hear it before you buy it.

Perhaps the Shopping Diva's next column should detail where News-Leader readers can shop to get some real news.

I have no complaint with Janet Michel, the Shopping Diva. She is doing what she was hired to do. My problem is with the clueless people who thought this was an indispensable addition to the News-Leader. My beef is with the kind of people who believe a shopping diva is more important to a newspaper than a seasoned reporter with deep community ties.

The Shopping Diva (even the name itself is a misguided attempt to appear trendy) is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the Springfield News-Leader, and with today's newspapers.


Anonymous said...

The diva is nothing more than a tool for a very desperate sales force to say "Hey we can get your store in an article"...thereby hoping that the shopowner would be wow-ed enough to buy some overpriced ads.

Anonymous said...

I heard that the Globe had another round of layoffs last Friday...can you confirm?

Anonymous said...

Randy , These are not related to this post but are interesting: &

Anonymous said...

I recently came across this related essay, The NYT and the information theory of the leisure class thanks to the Instapundit.

It covers what the New York Times is trying to do, and how its business model (now that enriching the Sulzberger family is getting really unsustainable) just doesn't make sense in a way not unlike what's leading to the decline and fall of papers like the Springfield News-Leader. Whereas The Wall Street Journal (which I've been reading since 3rd grade) is doing fairly well with its business model.

There's a market for facts. They are expensive to gather, and maybe the market for them isn't healthy enough to sustain many local papers, but as you frequently decry it's not at all clear the editors of these papers are trying hard with this traditional approach.

Anonymous said...

Conjecture only from this rotund Disgruntled Old Coot...

perhaps the lack of hard news within print newspapers is due to a lack of demand for that news from readers.

Perhaps folks are tired of reading about the same old crimes and the many negatives of life.

As for local, state and national politics, I believe people feel distanced from the political process with the vast majority of common folks within the USA likely rightfully believing that a powered ultra-wealthy elite class, corporate America and wealthy/powerful special-interest groups being the true owners/rulers of the USA.

Feeling powerless with a legal system that can not control or curtail crime, alienated from a political system usurped by the few, fed up in so many ways and seeking escapism from reality, the people have many venues to occupy their attention with the Web but one of many offering an alternative to traditional information and "escapism" sources.