At Large : An Oh My God moment for newspaper types
When newspaper people gather, as they will in a couple of weeks for the New England Newspaper and Press Association's convention next month in Boston, many of the conversations, the workshops, and the seminars will have a kind of Oh My God energy. That's because the torture of change in the news business continues.
More than 1,000 reporters, photographers, editors, webmasters, printers, advertising salespersons, circulation managers, and publishers will attend the convention, and nearly all of them wonder when this uncertainty will end.
Of course, there'll be lots of instruction on how to do what we do better, and some of it will come from veterans who suggest that they have a firm grip on the future. But, of course, they don't.
Newspaper people are worried and confused, even at the small community weekly level, but also regionally, and especially nationally. And there 's every reason to be anxious. There's advertising competition for classified and real estate advertising. There's news competition from the web, and opinion competition from the blogosphere. (Everybody has an opinion, and almost anyone with fingers can spread his opinion web-wide.) Costs are rising, and when cuts are needed, they are typically found in the newsroom.
Then, there's so much dissatisfaction with the media: the mistakes, the made-up news, the slanted news; the bad news, never good news; the confidential sources whose secrets must be kept, until going to jail no longer seems worth the principle. And the kids, they don't read newspapers anymore. Instead, they're on the Internet, playing games and texting their friends, communicating among their Facebook friends.
Ironically enough, Facebook, with a half a billion friends of its own globally and a billion and a half dollars in its war chest, is a little uncertain itself. How, its staffers and financiers ask themselves, can we monetize all these Facebook users and turn their interest in themselves and one another into big bucks for Facebook Inc., before the users run away with the business?
Newspaper folks want to know how they will keep the readers in their seats, leafing through the paper? In a few years, will anybody read the news on paper? And, who'll write it when the newsrooms are empty? On the face of it, with all these troubles to talk about, the convention may be a little grim. But, in the newspaper business the news about itself has been pretty grim for years. So, a weekend convention, even in Boston instead of Las Vegas, is a weekend away from the office. That's worth a smile.
And, while community newspapers struggle with some of these issues, others affect the small fry very little. In fact, newspapers like The Times and the Vineyard Gazette are the main sources of local news and advertising information in New England. No other sources come close, according to research done by American Opinion of Princeton, New Jersey.
Newspapers provide information about where to shop, how to vote, and where consumers can spend time off. And for local news, newspapers rule. That may be, at least in part, because network news anchors and cable TV news yammerers are too busy all talking about the same things — you know, the wars, the deficit, the President Obama, Sarah Palin. Not that these are not important, but the news that a dirt bike track in West Tisbury's days are numbered doesn't seem at all like news to the big guys.
Community newspapers are perfectly suited to pluck this low-hanging fruit, and because New England is fertile ground for small papers, newspapers attract readers more successfully in the seven-state region than newspapers do elsewhere.
None of this means that the news and information that New Englanders value and find nowadays on the paper pages of the weekly that shows up in their mailbox will always be delivered the same way. That's why the newspaper folks are developing web strategies that will transform them into integrated media enterprises. That means news delivered however the reader wants it: on paper, online, on his cell phone, to his I-pad, maybe to his watch, or one day directly to his undershorts. Who knows?
But, can one organization effectively produce print, broadcast, and online products with a consolidated staff operating from one newsroom? God, who knows? That's a question to which someone, we desperately hope, has an answer.
But, in the final analysis, despite all the worry and uncertainty, isn't the core issue what we write? That is what the readers, on paper or online, find when they pick up The Times or visit us on the web.