A few weeks ago, before I went back to Texas to visit my parents, my dad asked me to pick up a couple issues of my local newspaper. They recently changed to a smaller format, and as a fellow publisher, my dad wanted to see how things had turned out. (Spoiler alert: There were both pros and cons. As with most things.)
From there, we got to talking about where people get their news nowadays, and the differences between the various sources. Print vs. television vs. internet. Accuracy of information vs. speed of getting it out there. Metrics for success; audience demographics; costs and revenue; etc.
I confessed to being thoroughly of the Millennial generation on this, and thus getting most of my news from Google and social media. For example, Twitter was how I had learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. (However, I did then stay up to watch President Obama’s press conference on CNN.)
“Okay, but what about local news?” my dad pressed.
“Oh. Truthfully, I don’t really keep up with it… I guess I catch the nightly news sometimes?”
My dad sort of harrumphed and said, “Most of the time that’s just who got stabbed last night. Newspapers are where you find out what’s really happening in your neighborhood — changes with the school district, what the congressmen are doing, new roads being built. The stuff that actually affects you.”
Honestly, I had never thought of it that way before, but I think he’s probably right. There’s usually lot more valuable information to be found in 16 inky pages than in 16 minutes between commercials. (And don’t even get me started on the gimmicky way that TV sensationalizes stories to reel you in. “What insanely popular new toy will kill your baby in a heartbeat? We’ll tell you 3 hours from now, so don’t change that channel.”)
On a more personal level, it made me really proud to realize/remember that my dad truly considers that to be his job. Not just to sell advertising or increase subscriptions — but to keep his readers informed about their communities, about the news that will impact their lives.
(Please note: I’m not trying to hate on television news. I think it’s great for certain things. But the “we must get high ratings” aspect does have an impact, just like “we must get high pageviews” does on the internet.)
So while technology is changing a lot about the way we do things, hopefully we can all stay focused on and driven by the heart of why we do them.