Newspapers have it awfully tough these days.
Three years ago, Denver’s storied Rocky Mountain News folded after 150 years. The Seattle-Post Intelligencer, nearly as old, ceased print publication soon afterward and went exclusively online. As a result, waves of columnists are lamenting the inevitable death of the daily newspaper.
However, the death of the daily marks a transition to a faster, more accessible media model that will work to the consumer’s benefit. News outlets that fail to adapt will fail to survive.
This week happens to be National Newspaper Week, and the theme is: “Newspapers — The Cornerstone of Your Community.” This feels like a sadly optimistic claim about a medium that continues to be more and more marginalized. Sure, smaller and more localized papers like The Exponent still put forth most of their efforts into the printed product. But even we’re adapting with an overhaul of our website and an increased focus on our social media presence (Follow us on Twitter: @MSUExponent).
Print newspapers have some clear disadvantages. First, they’re costly — labor aside, it takes $500 to produce all 4,000 copies of one issue of The Exponent, but just $5 per month to operate our website. The newspaper is also competing with up-to-the-minute digital news updates, which can quickly render a paper’s information outdated.
The value of a newspaper, for many of us, is purely nostalgic. I distinctly remember my family’s Sunday ritual with our local newspaper, which we would spend the afternoon reading around the kitchen table after my dad and I battled for control of the sports section. I’ve talked to others who share similar experiences from their childhood. Nowadays, one could argue that it’s “not the same” when families sit around the kitchen table absorbed in the digital landscape offered by laptops, tablets and phones.
But while it may not be “the same,” it’s not necessarily worse for news.
I’m optimistic about the future of news. The power and control of news is shifting ever more to the hands of the reporter, who can now establish an individual brand via their Twitter feed, blog, etc. A prime example is Linda Thomas from Seattle’s KIRO FM, who spoke at a journalism conference I attended last spring. She was struggling as an anonymous reporter until she branded herself under the moniker “The News Chick” and used Twitter to share her personalized reporting, attracting over 21,000 followers.
While the Exponent is working under different circumstances than larger publications in big cities, we also need to develop our coverage beyond the printed product. Our more experienced reporters could use personalized blog posts and Twitter feeds to bring specialized information to readers with specific interests. For example, by branding a reporter as our “political correspondent” and giving him or her a home on our website, readers wanting to follow Montana’s 2013 legislative session would have a go-to source for information beyond our print edition. After all, we’re “not just Thursdays anymore.”
Don’t get me wrong; I love newspapers, (especially the Exponent). However, it’s time to stop mourning and work together to embrace the evolution of news. It will only get better from here.