I stumbled across an interesting discussion about the role of newspapers over at Ed Kemmick’s blog today, and it’s a fascinating give and take between Ed and a critic of the current Billings Gazette, who argues that hard news has been supplanted with public relations and features coverage at the paper.
It’s an interesting discussion, and one that probably plays out in newsrooms across the country. I’m increasingly seeing myself as one of the curmudgeons who want more hard news and often find myself incredibly frustrated about the lack of “hard news” coverage in my daily local, the Independent Record.
The subject I am most familiar with is, of course, education, and in my mind, it’s a perfect lens with which to view the lack of substantive news coverage in my local. This week provides an instructive example. On Tuesday, the Helena School Board met to discuss anticipated budget shortfalls for the 2008-09 school year. It was a tough meeting, lasting hours, with a lot of information presented, including the idea that the district will either have to dip heavily into one time money or cut programs and staffing next year.
That’s important news, right? From Tuesday, and still uncovered. Not a word.
This isn’t an aberration. In my time in Helena as a teacher, there has been little attention paid to hard news about the schools. Instead, education coverage in Helena is almost always feature stories, about a particular program or class. It’s not that those don’t have value or a place in the news; it’s that they don’t mean much without the context that hard news would provide. I enjoyed editor John Doran’s story about visiting Smith School today. I just would have enjoyed it more if his paper covered the news, too.
It’s not that hard news isn’t easy to find. In fact, I and others have sent story suggestions to the IR, only to be met with deafening silence. Maybe Ed is right, and the Gazette is better than it was 20 years ago; I’m just not seeing the same thing in Helena.