A streak of newshounds
The theme of the New England Press Association's 56th Annual Convention and Trade Show next week in Boston is Promoting Growth and Excellence in New England Newspapers. NEPA's convention is the largest regional newspaper gathering in the United States. More than 1,000 reporters, photographers, editors, webmasters, printers, advertising salespersons, circulation managers, and publishers will attend.
They'll participate in more than 50 educational seminars and roundtables. There will be leadership programs presented by the American Press Institute, plus programs in executive development; sports department leadership; the serious business of games (more sports); newspaper staff training; finding, hiring and keeping streetfighters (that is, ad salespeople); the era of advertainment; maximize your co-op advertising sales; web strategies in an integrated media enterprise; classified advertising leadership: building a multi-media marketplace.
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 IM-ing their friends. How will we keep them 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 weekend may be a little grim.
Happily, 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 for the New England Press Association by American Opinion of Princeton, New Jersey. This study is based on interviews with 1,200 adults (age 18 and older) throughout New England. The results have a margin of error of plus of minus three percentage points.
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 war, the deficit, the Patriot Act, the Super Bowl. Not that these are not important, but the news that Aquinnah can't get itself organized to hold a special town meeting to confront the cell tower issue 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 convening in Boston next week will be studying such things as web strategies in an integrated media enterprise. An integrated media enterprise means news delivered however the reader wants it: on paper, online, on his cell phone, to his I-pod, maybe his watch, or one day his undershorts. Who knows? We'll also study convergence. Convergence "is a big theme in the media universe these days," the convention program assures us. "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 content? That is what the readers, on paper or online, find when they pick up The Times or visit us on the web? And so, maybe the best workshop of the weekend will be the Power Reporting, day-long seminar. That sounds like something every newshawk ought to love. But, wait a minute, reading on, I find that it's a "hands-on workshop in reporting, writing and editing using the Internet, spreadsheets, and databases." Maybe reporting, which was always a shoe leather and telephone talking affair, is going online too. But, spreadsheets and databases? I don't know. Maybe "Score with Your Sports Reporting" or learning about a "Sports Buzz Section" might be more fun. And, after all, what's got some of us this far is that newspapering is fun, and ought to stay that way.