Why Are Newspapers Dying: A Local Theory

Shares

The news is bad for newspapers: ad revenues and readership are falling to dangerous levels, with major companies and newspapers facing significant financial difficulties. Gannett is laying off workers, the Tribune Company is seeking bankruptcy protection, and even our own Lee Enterprises (the 7th largest chain in the country) is seeing its stock plummet, from nearly $16/share to 3 shares/$1, and facing a cascade of debt that calls into question the company’s viability.

Some of these difficulties make sense: print newspapers are dealing with a cultural change in the way that we read and gather news. We’re just surrounded by access to information. When I was young, I remember waking up as early as I could to read the Great Falls Tribune to get the box score of the Padres game the night before, because it was the only place I could get the news in my cable-free house. If the game was on the West Coast, I usually had to wait until the following day. Today, I can’t avoid hearing the score of the game, much as I would like to, given the poor play of the Padres. I can get an update on my cell phone, catch the score on half a dozen cable channels, watch the game on my computer, or TIVO it for later viewing. I control where I get the information, and from whom, just like my news.

To some extent, it appears that small local papers have not adjusted to this sea change. I regularly read 24 hour old AP wire stories about international and national affairs in the Independent Record. These stories don’t offer anything new, and unlike 10 years ago, don’t even inform the average reader, who has already heard the story. By the time the piece reaches a reader in the morning, the story has broken, had 13 new blogs created to discuss it, and been featured in at least a half-dozen YouTube parodies: it’s old news.

The IR seems to have chosen an interesting response to this issue: they’ve essentially given up hard news reporting of local issues. In its place, the paper is filled with human interest stories, press releases, and columnists ruminating on weighty issues like the new Organic Coffee bar in town. I suspect these measures are designed to make producing the newspaper less expensive, but from my point of view, they’ve just made the product cheaper.

Human Interest News

Human interest stories absolutely dominate the Independent Record. The past week has featured front page coverage of Game Day at the Library, Hanukkah, the Carroll Football team, the cold weather and its impact on one ranch, 8th grade honors students making videos, and the pressing national concern about delayed luggage from the Carroll football team’s trip to Georgia.

These are front page stories. In part, they explain what newspapers are doing to themselves. Has anyone ever told a neighbor or co-worker that they must read the paper to read a story like this? Has one ever generated any meaningful word of mouth about the paper? Of course not. What’s the appeal, then? Well, they’re easy to write, don’t require much research, and usually have some appealing art for the front page: short term gains that make the paper less relevant every day.

Press Release Journalism

These narratives only hurt the relevance of the newspaper; the real damage comes from the stories that hurt its credibility: “news” that might as well have been written by the organization(s) or person(s) being covered.

Wonder what I mean? Take a look at today’s lead story about St. Peter’s Hospital. It’s just an unbelievable piece of boosterism for one of Helena’s largest employers (and not incidentally, largest advertisers). In painting the expansion of the hospital as an unqualified success, as judged solely by its CEO (the only person interviewed in the entire story!), the piece manages to brush away all of the news that would have been worth reporting: that St. Peter’s would rather ensure “reimbursement rates” than provide hospice care, that there are significant doctor shortages, and that mental health remains a largely unresolved issue in our community.

Whether it’s St. Peter’s, Carroll College (which has been experiencing a bitter, protracted fight about compensation for faculty for years), the Montana Meth Project, the local schools, or political figures, the Independent Record has been far too willing print stories that don’t seem to be based on asking the hard questions or investigating beyond asking the PR director of the agency involved. These stories don’t demand anything of anyone: not the reporter writing them, not the agencies being written about, and not the audience reading them.

A reporter doesn’t always need to be negative, but he/she certainly needs to be critical. A newspaper that lacks that mindset won’t have any credibility with its readers.

Getting the Readers Back

So, how can the Independent Record stay competitive in this challenging environment, draw in readers, and become a vital part of our community’s conversation once more?

  • Stop with the absurd efforts to appeal to new readers. They’re not going to be drawn to the paper by an expanded arts section or to your web site by incredibly annoying videos. Appeal to new readers just as you should with older readers—with better coverage.
  • Take on some of the sacred cows in our community. When a controversy breaks, don’t send your reporters to get a quote from the “communications director” or “press liaison” of the agency involved. Does anyone believe that this people will ever have anything of value to say? Isn’t their job to minimized critical news and trumpet every imagined success? Dig. Investigate. Confront.
  • Remember the role of the media. Your job isn’t to promote institutions, but to make them better by keeping the public informed. Those editorials about the crucial importance of the media in a free society might ring a little true if there was a bit more critical coverage going on.
  • Offer thoughtful analysis of the issues that impact the community. In the days after Mike Dennison’s recent coverage of health care options following the election of Barack Obama, I can’t tell you how many people brought up the articles in discussion. I think that readers are hungry for news coverage like this. Surely, the Independent Record can cover the deer culling controversy, the failure to meet Annual Yearly Progress by our secondary schools, and dozens of other important local issues with real scrutiny and insight. The stories might be harder to write and research, and require devoting adequate resources to do the job, but to borrow the words of W.P. Kinsella, if you write it, readers will come.

I want newspapers to survive, and even thrive. I can’t imagine a world in which most of our news comes from television or, God forbid, blogs, but newspapers are only going to survive if they make themselves indispensible to their communities once again. That’s only going to happen with better coverage, more thoughtful reporting, and a focus on news that matters.

If you appreciate our efforts to hold Montana Republicans accountable and the independent journalism here at The Montana Post, please consider supporting our work with a small pledge.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

148
Leave a Reply

avatar
148 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
145 Comment authors
friteuse electriquecar detailing charleston scindianapolis carpet cleaningappareil photo numérique bridgemontre gps garmin Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Ten obcy sprawdzian
Guest

I together with my buddies have already been reading the best guides located on your web page and so before long I got a terrible feeling I never thanked the website owner for those techniques. The men had been absolutely happy to read through all of them and have in truth been taking pleasure in these things. Many thanks for genuinely well kind and for choosing certain fabulous information most people are really needing to understand about. My personal honest regret for not expressing appreciation to you earlier.

office photocopier
Guest

Good website! I truly love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I’ve subscribed to your RSS which must do the trick! Have a great day!

6uty
Guest

Thanks for all your valuable hard work on this site. My mum delights in engaging in internet research and it is easy to see why. A lot of people notice all relating to the dynamic manner you provide both useful and interesting tricks via this web blog and in addition invigorate response from people on that content so our favorite princess is really discovering a lot of things. Take pleasure in the rest of the year. You’re performing a brilliant job.

site
Guest

I like what you guys are up too. Such intelligent work and reporting! Carry on the excellent works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my website :). “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” by Saul Bellow.

Sleep Problems
Guest

Hey this is somewhat of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

trampoline pas cher
Guest

I love the efforts you have put in this, appreciate it for all the great blog posts.

Earle Lovfald
Guest

Nice blog. All posts have a process to learn. Your hard work is very good and i enjoy you and wanting for some more informative posts.

Conventional Appraisal
Guest

I am just finding related blog posts for my job as well as I occurred to discover yours. Thank you to the outstanding your website content.

sexy stockings
Guest

I am glad to be a visitant of this thoroughgoing internet weblog ! , thankyou for this rare information ! .

brass knuckles for sale
Guest

Great job here. I definitely enjoyed what you had to say. Keep going because you undoubtedly bring a new voice to this topic. Not many people would say what youve said and still make it interesting. Nicely, at least Im interested. Cant wait to see far more of this from you.

swiat fizyki 2 zamkor sprawdziany
Guest

I simply wanted to develop a comment in order to appreciate you for all of the unique tricks you are showing on this website. My prolonged internet research has at the end of the day been honored with reliable suggestions to go over with my close friends. I ‘d mention that many of us readers are quite fortunate to live in a remarkable network with so many awesome individuals with beneficial advice. I feel quite fortunate to have used your entire weblog and look forward to plenty of more fun moments reading here. Thanks again for all the details.

billiga webbhotell
Guest

Denna länk skrevs för att assistera kunder utvälja bra och billiga webbhotell och samtidigt slippa problem i framtiden. Sorgligt nog finns det flertal webbhotell som aldrig håller måttet samtidigt som andra glänser år efter år. Ett flertal använder oärlig reklam för att locka till kunder.

Solar for my home
Guest

Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Terrific blog and amazing design.

robot ménager
Guest

Hi my loved one! I wish to say that this article is awesome, nice written and come with approximately all significant infos. I’d like to look more posts like this.

montres femmes
Guest

You are my breathing in, I have few blogs and rarely run out from to brand.

Snug Doggies
Guest

I appreciate all the work you all have put into your site! I’m going to Tweet this out to my followers… Definitely worth sharing!

Solomon Chararria
Guest

amazing very cool blog i wanted to know what are you using for blog software

http://www.friteusesanshuile.net/
Guest

Really nice style and design and superb content , hardly anything else we want : D.

Heating & Air Conditioning Tyler TX
Guest

I believe most peоple woulԁ agree with your post. I am goіng to bookmark this wеb site ѕo I сan come back anԁ read more роstѕ. Keep up thе great work!

pawnbroker
Guest

I cherished up to you’ll receive carried out appropriate here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you would like be turning in the following. sick unquestionably come a lot more formerly once a lot more since exactly the same just about a lot regularly within case you defend this hike.

fish tank
Guest

Spot lets start function on this write-up, I truly believe this wonderful internet site requirements additional consideration. I’ll far more likely be once again you just read additional, thank you that details.

djm 900
Guest

Hi! Great blog!

long term relationships
Guest

Superb website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any community forums that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I can get opinions from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Many thanks!

iso 27001 audit consultant
Guest

Great blog post – I found you on Google. I will be sure to recommend this to my co-workers. Keep up the great work!

Herta Bennink
Guest

Thank you for each of your effort on this web site. Gloria enjoys getting into research and it’s really easy to see why. Many of us know all about the powerful medium you convey helpful strategies by means of your web blog and encourage contribution from other individuals about this area of interest and our favorite simple princess is undoubtedly understanding a whole lot. Enjoy the rest of the year. You are always carrying out a first class job.

Mauricio Althoff
Guest

I appreciate your post, it was interesting and compelling. I have found my way here through Google, I am going to return over again 🙂

robot cuisine multifonction
Guest

Keep up the great piece of work, I read few blog posts on this website and I conceive that your site is very interesting and holds circles of fantastic information.

making money from home
Guest

Do you have a spam problem on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was wanting to know your situation; many of us have developed some nice methods and we are looking to exchange solutions with other folks, please shoot me an email if interested.

spongebob episodes
Guest

Wow, amazing blog format! How long have you been running a blog for? you make blogging look easy. The whole look of your website is magnificent, let alone the content material!

Jeane Atma
Guest

truly inspiring and creative thinking in the way you use your words. I wish someday my writing skills will be on the same level as yours.

Randy
Guest

I was searching through StumbleUpon for sites on this very subject so I really enjoyed your well written piece. I enjoyed your writing style and have signed up to your feed so I can read future posts on this and other subjects.

laptops
Guest

I got it !!! thanks for all info will surely use it in my work and let you know how it goes 🙂

Seo backlinks
Guest

This web page is really a walk-by for all the information you wished about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse here, and also you’ll definitely uncover it.

painting contractor
Guest

This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

Charleen Houten
Guest

I surely didn’t understand that. Learnt one thing new nowadays! Thanks for that.

get free facebook credits
Guest

Just wanna remark that you have a extremely good web web site , I like the layout it in fact stands out.

Margarito Quiver
Guest

I’m not sure why but this web site is loading very slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

Discount Cigars
Guest

You seem to be really expert within the way you write.::’~*

sex free
Guest

Following study a few with the content material for your website now, i genuinely as if your technique of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark site list and are checking back soon. Pls have a look at my web site too and told me in case you agree.

Cedric Didato
Guest

Do you have a spam problem on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; we have created some nice methods and we are looking to swap solutions with others, be sure to shoot me an e-mail if interested.

Brandon
Guest

Thank you for this article, and wait for more on this subject and I like to ask the site manager that may appear to the Post, I admire this wonderful site and articles

emt salaries
Guest

Not often do I encounter a weblog that is both educated and entertaining, and let me tell you, you could have hit the nail on the head. Your concept is superb; the issue is something that not sufficient individuals are speaking intelligently about. I am extremely happy that I stumbled across this in my quest for something relating to this.

double glazing retrofit
Guest

I keep listening to the information speak about getting loose on-line provide purposes so I have been trying round for the best website to get one.:) http://www.christchurchglass.getlisted.co.nz/double-glazing-retrofit

montre gps garmin
Guest

I like this site so much, saved to bookmarks. “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” by Peter De Vries.

appareil photo numérique bridge
Guest

I like what you guys are up also. Such clever work and reporting! Carry on the excellent works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my website :). “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” by Saul Bellow.

indianapolis carpet cleaning
Guest

We wanted to stop in and provide you guys the chance to see our website so that you have the ability to investigate our fantastic product. Our staff as well as client support group happen to be amazing as well as we recognize that we can match your desires. Our potentials happen to be much higher than our competitors as well as would like to observe you do well by having us on your side. If there happens to be almost anything we can do, please let us realize. 100 % customer contentment is our leading aim.

car detailing charleston sc
Guest

I must say, as significantly as I enjoyed reading what you had to say, I couldnt help but lose interest after a while. Its as if you had a wonderful grasp to the topic matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from extra than one angle. Or maybe you shouldnt generalise so significantly. Its better if you think about what others may have to say instead of just going for a gut reaction to the subject. Think about adjusting your personal thought process and giving others who may read this the benefit of… Read more »

friteuse electrique
Guest

I really appreciate this post. I’ve been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thanks again!

Support Our Work!

Poll

What would be the most appropriate nickname for Matt Rosendale?

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe Via E-mail

0 /* ]]> */