Here’s a sneak peak at my latest column that will appear in the July edition of News&Tech magazine. This is longer than my normal blog posts.
We still can’t get away from the never ending stories and blogs about the death of newspapers, and whether e-readers can “save” newspapers. It doesn’t matter that both points are way off base, but it does matter than this kind of hyperbole can mislead those who are passive followers of what’s really going on in the industry.
So let’s try this approach — the debate shouldn’t be about whether any one device will save newspapers, but whether we’ll save the ability to produce strong, independent journalism.
Newspaper companies will survive and thrive because they will evolve. Information will go from being available on just one device — print — to a number of different devices, which could include print, online, mobile, e-readers, netbooks, and technology under development that haven’t been released yet.. The newspaper part could very well be an abbreviated version of what we currently see, either in the days of the week we get the printed product, or product size.
But who’s going to produce the information that feeds these devices? To think that bloggers and community folks can fill the local content void is naive. Maybe I’m too old school about this, but I firmly believe that there will be, for the long-term, a demand for quality information. Not the talk TV, scream until you’re hoarse opinion that masquerades as news; not the off-the-cuff opinions widely available on the web; not the uninformed blabbering that often gets facts wrong.
I’m talking quality information from trained journalists who play a story down the middle, with no adjectives that force an agenda, no leading questions that slant an issue. Don’t get me wrong. There are some bloggers and community folks who can do just fine uncovering local tidbits that will prove interesting to their communities. But those folks are few and far between because they don’t and often can’t invest the time, commitment and expense it takes to uncover information.
And how many of them can really tell you something of significance that you didn’t know? Take a look — no, carefully examine — the information professional, trained journalists produce everyday (and remember, be platform agnostic). You’ll see they provide a wealth of information in ways no one else can. Don’t believe me? Just look at your local newspaper and ask yourself: where would I get this information if not from journalists?
In June, the NCR Corporation announced it was leaving its birthplace, Dayton, Ohio, for Duluth, Georgia. The Dayton Daily News, and its professionally trained editorial staff, sprung into action. (Full disclosure: I work at the Daily News, but don’t mention that in my columns and personal blogs since my opinion might not necessarily reflect that of the company).
Over a two-day period, the staff produced more than two-dozen stories and editorials that examined how much the city would lose in tax revenue, published the memo NCR’s CEO sent to employees, and sparked outrage over the revelation that federal stimulus money may be used to move jobs from one state to another. Journalists used their tools to constantly updated the website, which produced thousand of comments on its stories, send breaking news alerts to inboxes and mobile phones, and deliver the latest news to users’ inboxes via email each morning,
Someone convince me that this kind of journalism can be replaced by bloggers and community folks. Someone convince me that a story that tears at the heart of a community could have been more expertly and completely told by anyone else. Someone convince me that there’s another entity that can provide this information across all of the platforms — print, mobile, online — that the Dayton Daily News did.
There is no convincing me. Fact is, a story of this magnitude would have been underplayed, under reported, and not as well understood, if not for the local journalists. Yes, the industry is under cost pressure. Yes, the industry is making cutbacks and getting smaller. But, getting too small risks cutting off the last line of information that keeps the public adequately informed. That’s why the industry needs to take its case to its users — we’re vitally important to your daily lives, and that’s why you should support products that, daily, cost less than items off the dollar menu of your favorite fast food joint.
Without this kind of detailed and complete information, we stand a real risk of dumbing down our communities, which will only hear the noise and not what matters. Forget about saving newspapers because in one way, shape or form, they will be around. We need to save journalism.