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.

11 responses to “Recent thoughts on journalism, part 1”

  1. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    I often wonder about local news, and the disconnect when you’re following the global world (like twitter). I still read the free local paper at lunch, and tune into local news on TV. There’s value to that kind of connection. Local concerns aren’t always the same… just rambling thoughts.

  2. Trisha Avatar

    He has his moments.

  3. Julia Avatar

    Interesting post. I hadn’t thought about how we consume news and whether the delivery method matters.

    I read the local paper online. Sometimes. When I remember to. Or when I want to know if it’s going to rain over the weekend. I agree that local papers still have value. I’d argue (because I’m a lawyer and its what we do) that the whole idea of the nightly newscast is on its way out. Lets face it, most people have twitter, and facebook, and google news, and yahoo news, and their favorite news blogs and unless something happened at 6:59, chances are you’ve heard about it by the 7:00 newscast.

  4. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    I’m a sucker for newspapers, and stories about newspapers (The Front Page, in all its incarnations, for example). I read this today (an obituary about a New York Times reporter): http://tinyurl.com/ckdyxr6, including these paragraphs:

    An evangelical Christian, he kept a Bible on his desk and led prayer meetings for like-minded colleagues (there were none when he joined the paper, he noted ruefully) in a conference room off the newsroom.

    He refrained from smoking, drinking, cursing and gambling, each of which had been refined to a high, exuberant art in the Times newsroom — the last of these to such a degree that at midcentury the newspaper employed two bookmakers-in-residence, nominally on the payroll as news clerks.

    More seriously, I’ll say this. After 9/11, we were had counseling sessions at my job. Some people were very nervous and anxious, and in every case their obsessive TV-news watching was making it worse. Those of us who were reading newspapers and avoiding television were both calmer (somewhat calmer, at least) and better informed.

  5. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    I tried to indent the quoted paragraphs, but they got straightened out. The two middle paragraphs are from the Times. The others are from me. :-)

  6. Shari Avatar

    Having worked at a news station, I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful aspects to local television news, especially at the station I worked at, which makes a point of highlighting the good along with the bad and the heartwarming along with the heartwrenching. They cover school board meetings, charity drives, and local politics. Ratings definitely play a role, though – they have to – and although obviously there’s competition in print journalism, too, like you said there’s also an opportunity to delve deeper. I get a lot of my news online, but I still watch a broadcast every evening and I still read the newspaper on weekends. As with everything else, I think it’s all about balance.

  7. Joelle Wilson Avatar

    I like to read the newspapers, magazines, online news sites. I feel like it has more of a personal connection than the television version. Also news always feels rushed and pushy via the TV.

  8. Juliann Avatar

    I agree with your dad wholeheartedly. I still subscribe to the newspaper, but am always depressed to see how thin the pages are. He’s right in that it carries the news that actually affects us.

    I was so privileged to write for the newspapers for a few years. I feel like I got to know the community, the human interest stories, the events taking place locally, and the businesses that keep our community thriving. Now, when I think about writing a local human interest story, I immediately brush the thought away. Who will care? There’s not a platform or audience for it anymore. And unless it’s sensational in some way, it probably won’t garner a glimpse on digital media.

    I hold out hope that someday the pendulum will swing back and we’ll see a resurgence of print journalism. That’s the Pollyanna in me, I guess. But record albums are slowly coming back… :)

  9. Kristan Avatar

    It sounds like most of y’all are still into local news, which is wonderful. :)

    Lol that he does.

    Yes, immediacy is a big advantage that social media has over traditional media. Which is why newspapers and TV stations are having to soul-search and figure out what they can offer that social media can’t. I think my dad’s point is that genuine community connection and knowledge is one point that can distinguish a good paper… although a friend on Twitter pointed out to me that there are city-specific blogs nowadays that try to do the same thing.

    Not sure what TV stations will try to offer moving forward…

    Wow, yes, to YOUR point, sometimes immediacy is NOT a benefit. I mean, our society always perceives it as such, but sometimes it’s clearly better to let the dust settle and see what’s what. I’m afraid we might just be losing that sensibility, though…

    Balance, yes. Definitely agree.

    Aw, the human interest stories are the ONLY ones that interest me. Haha, maybe I’m just a weirdo…

  10. Meghan Ward Avatar

    As a former newspaper reporter for a small local newspaper, this post makes me happy. So glad someone cares about local news! We worked so hard to stay on top of everything and to write interesting stories about mundane things, like the misappropriation of funds at the local historical museum, the parking problems at the local mall, a profile of the founder of the recycling center, etc. etc. And those city council and school board meetings! I’d be there til midnight thinking, “How on earth did I end up HERE?”

  11. Kristan Avatar

    I didn’t know you were a journalist, Meghan! How cool. :)