The shrinking world of newspapers
Despite the downfall of print journalism over the past several years, there’s still something romantic about newspapers.
I’m not sure what it is. I know the odds of me ever wanting to work in newspapers again are slim to none. The pay isn’t great, the benefits aren’t always that good, and the industry, as a whole, is going down. There aren’t just reporters writing anymore – now they usually need to write, take photos, do layout, do video, tweet, update Facebook and so much more.
All for little pay.
Back in my newspaper days, I did a lot of that stuff already – wrote, took calls, reported, photos, layout etc. I felt there were benefits in being multi-faceted.
Local newspapers have it a little harder, especially when owned by a newspaper corporation. It’s even worse when said corporation takes things away from you – such as paginating locally or staffing. These are the days of our lives, so they say.
Still, one has to adapt.
Reality is this – newspapers aren’t what they used to be. Many people get their news from the computer or their phones or tablets. They listen and watch more news and sports shows. When a newspaper is reporting national scores the next day – it’s already old news.
So how does a newspaper survive?
For local newspapers, it needs to be local coverage in all aspects – news and sports. Though I realize newspapers have a fundamental job to report the big news, there needs to be a massive focus on local copy.
What happens when that changes, though?
Over the past several years, I’ve watched the local newspaper gradually shrink and get tougher and tougher to read. The little errors – grammar, spelling, and even some facts – pile up over and over. Though you’ll see some of these in the corrections spot, they don’t catch everything. There have been these types of things in headlines, too, which is even worse. There are more than a handful of bylined stories where the “reporter” does nothing more than re-writes press releases. That’s not reporting – that’s copy editing. There’s errors that never should happen (one issue had a jump on local sports stories – but the jump was nowhere to be found. It was never corrected or fixed, that I saw, in any future editions. Probably online, but the website is dreadful to use).
The problem with smaller places is the feel is not the same. When I worked in newspapers, we had a dynamic group of sports people. We won awards and took a lot of pride in what we did. The copy desk was strong and helped shape writers young and old. The newsroom was a fun place to be and work (usually).
But it’s hard to keep up that momentum when there are staff cuts and circulation continues to decrease. From the time I started to now – so the early 2000s until recent, circulation has dropped more than 15,000. That’s a ton for a small newspaper. Coverage in outlying towns and counties has decreased to the point where some weekly papers are a better source of local news. The sports sections – formerly award winning – has dwindled. People have left and gone on to hopeful greener pastures, leaving it basically as a one-man show with some part-time “help.”
It shows, too.
When I worked in the industry, “local” was preached. We always were working on feature stories or something for a local flare. During the winter, you’d be lucky to find the NHL or NBA out on the front more than a handful of times. Now it’s a regular thing to see national stories like that dominating the whole section. But the odd part – during Super Bowl week, there was hardly anything about the big game.
And I’m not here to rip apart things. Finances and lack of support from corporate (in pretty much every newspaper) makes it hard. Still, when you lose your local connections and have people doing the job who are green and don’t know the landscape, it’s tough. You have to find a way to bring them up to speed (hire a consultant or somebody who has done the job to help guide them … it doesn’t have to be for long. Make the new people understand the area).
I still love newspapers. When I travel, I pick up local papers to see what it’s all about. I still read my local paper six days a week. I cringe often, unfortunately, but I still read it. I am through it by the time I finish a bowl of Cheerios, but I still ready it.
One day, I know I’ll be reading my news in the morning on a tablet. The smell and feel of a newspaper will eventually fade. But for now, the romance is still there. It’s just a shame the feel of a breakup is also with it.