I’m an avid morning newspaper reader, a habit developed from years of working as an editor and that bred-in fear of being beat on a story.
Knowing there are several newspapers in my driveway and how good that morning coffee is going to taste gets me out of bed early.
Reading the headlines lately, I often think to myself: I already knew about that. These are stories I care about, but the news is already stale. The future of newspapers is now a national debate, but it’s being played out in everyone’s hometown newsroom.
For example, the Camera reported this morning on tire slashings around the city, including my neighborhood. That’s news I need to know. But yesterday our neighborhood online discussion group lit up with everyone’s first-person reports of the vandalism. By the time the morning paper even went to print, meetings had been organized for a Neighborhood Watch group. That wasn’t mentioned in the story.
I read about the demise of the Rocky Mountain News from a friend on Facebook, not the newspaper. Sports pages are really full of “old” news. Fans don’t wait, they read scores or even the game’s play by play online, often on their phone.
As I’ve added more online social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and Boulder-based companies’ tools, like Filtrbox and the Business Report’s Daily E-news, I expect breaking news to reach me all day, much of it customized to exactly what I want.
This is why I agree with a recent Editor and Publisher column by newspaper industry watcher Steve Outing, who writes bluntly: “Charging on the Web won’t work for general-news publishers.” So-called “pay walls” are the last thing newspapers need right now, despite their disgust with aggregators like Newser, with the tagline “Read less, know more.”
Outing’s column, “Getting Money from Readers Who Won’t Pay for Online News,” not only disputes the latest pay-for-Web-content strategy announced by MediaNews Group of Denver, owner of both the Post and the Camera, but also lays out several reasonable alternative solutions.
New ideas to save newspapers are plentiful. Here’s one of them. What would happen, do you think, if the front page of your morning paper had an appeal sounding very much like those frequent fund-raising drives that support public radio?
It would read something like this: In order to keep bringing you the quality news reporting you’ve come to expect, we’re asking you to make a tax-deductible contribution every month and become a paid member of our new nonprofit newspaper.
As newspapers lose subscribers to free online sites and blogs, lose (make that lost) classifieds to Craig’s List, and lose automobile, real estate and large national advertisers to the Internet, is the day of a philanthropic, nonprofit model so far fetched?
Several working journalists (except for the two recently laid off) approached this topic at the CU World Affairs Conference.
Investigative journalist Roberta Baskin, who broke stories on Nike’s sweatshops in Vietnam, described the “tsunami of change” sweeping the media industry, saying in many cases “It’s a race to the bottom right now.” Not only are investigative reporters being fired because of their higher expenses and salaries, but media executives fret much more about the costs of possible litigation.
Baskin doubted the sustainability of philanthropic donors supporting newspapers, and another idea -- “nationalizing” newspapers similar to the BBC -- doesn’t sit very well with anyone. In fact, several foundations, journalism schools like Columbia University, and even private benefactors have begun funding in-depth reporting efforts. Journalism schools might need to start teach grant-writing classes. “These are perilous times,” Baskin said, “and I don’t think the public is paying attention to this.”
Margaret Engel, a former Washington Post and Des Moines Register reporter who’s now executive director of the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation, which supports investigative journalists and photojournalists, described newspaper’s woes as the “revenge of the screen starers.” (Is that what I am becoming?)
“People don’t have the visual desire to hold a newspaper anymore,” she said.
Newsrooms are more fearful than ever. “Those of us in the trenches knew the suits were not really behind us,” Engel said.
All is not lost just yet. Reporters, editors and publishers are a resourceful group. New ideas like mobile phone apps or charging for content on Kindle e-readers are being tried, and so-called “niche” publishers, including ethnic publications, are even growing. News that is “hyper local,” including more “citizen journalists” attending school board meetings, is finding some footing.
You might try reading The Huffington Post, an Internet-only newspaper with blogs, videos, e-mail alerts, Twitters, and I just learned from The Economist, just four reporters in a staff of 60. The InDenver Times is being run by former Rocky staffers. IWantMyRocky.com is still online, but needs a new name.
Yes, I’m staring more at computer screens these days. But I refuse to do it with my morning coffee.