This is the Sound of a Scared Newspaper
Confession: I love newspapers. We still subscribe to our local paper, and we’ve taught our kids to read the paper every morning before school. My post-college career began at a newspaper (the Los Angeles Daily News). I want newspapers to succeed because I think they have a critical role in society.
But this really makes me angry: The inside scoop: What’s new for newspapers?
It’s an editorial published today by my local paper, the Tri-City Herald, and written after a visit by the CEO of McClatchy Newspapers, the paper’s owners. The visit apparently was all about the future of newspapers and probably included some kind of pep talk for the troops. And the paper turned that talk into an editorial that compares online news, bloggers, and everyone else to the BP oil spill. Here’s some of what the Herald published:
The internet is great. But it’s a gusher — not unlike the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Once you get it started, there’s just no shutoff valve … and no filter … and no retraction button.
And once it’s on the web, those rumors become a lot more believable for a lot of people. “I read it on the internet” is the new excuse for just about everything.
But buyer beware. It is often impossible to know if anyone has verified the material that’s on the internet or whether anyone is held responsible for rumors, misinformation or outright libel.
That uncertainty is working in newspapers’ favor. People are turning to newspaper websites as a trusted source.
Certainly, we’re guilty of sins of commission and omission — but our mistakes are made in the context of striving to present a complete and accurate report of events.
We have plenty of detractors, and hear from them regularly, but newspaper websites dominate internet traffic in virtually every market — usually attracting 70 percent of the audience or better.
It makes sense. Aside from credibility issues, few bloggers have the resources that a newsroom commands. There are serious journalists in the blogosphere, of course, but without newspaper reporters gathering facts and publishing first-hand accounts, few bloggers would have anything to talk about.
For all the painful changes at the nation’s newspapers, no one else reports on the communities we serve with the same depth.
It takes a newsroom to cover the city council meetings, disseminate the police logs, follow the court case and file the open records requests.
That’s the sound of a scared newspaper. Let’s look at some of these claims:
1.) The Internet is like the BP oil spill. Oh, grow up, Herald. The problem is that your day-late print publication can’t keep up with the speed of news that the Internet facilitates. It makes you obsolete. And you, with your annual cutting of thousands of trees, are a lot closer to the environmental damage happening in the Gulf than any online news outlet.
2.) It’s impossible to verify material online. It’s no more difficult to verify online news than it is to verify what you publish. On our real estate blog, I just broke the news that Charter Cable has bought out the local cable company; big news in our little town (that you still haven’t reported). And to help people verify the news, I scanned and posted the complete letter we received from Charter. What tools do you give me in your articles to help verify them? But all news should be read with a critical eye, whether it comes from a newspaper or a local blog. In fact, I dare say that if someone were to verify the news you print … they’d go online to do it. Jealous, perhaps?
3.) Our mistakes are made in trying to present a complete and accurate report. Yes, like when you completely failed to report that Dino Rossi, a well-known Republican who twice this decade came close to winning the governor’s seat, had declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate. You didn’t publish a correction the following day (to my knowledge), but an online news site would’ve quite easily amended such a mistake by posting the news when a reader like me asked about it.
4.) Newspaper web sites dominate Internet traffic with 70 percent of the audience or better. And how am I supposed to verify a stat like that when you don’t bother sharing a source? Online bloggers would’ve linked to their source.
5.) Without newspapers, few bloggers would have anything to talk about. Oh, KMA Herald. Your reporters use the Internet for research as much as anyone. Here’s a study that says 89% of journalists use blogs for research. (Notice how I included a link there so you can verify the datum?) And if you’re complaining that local bloggers steal your stories, remember that goes both ways. (Another link for verification!)
6.) It takes a newsroom to [cover local news]. I don’t run a local news blog, but I know a lot of people who do. And they do it from their homes just fine, thank you. In Seattle, they do it so well that the Seattle Times has been partnering for about a year with several local news blogs to help the paper cover stories it couldn’t cover otherwise. There are similar newspaper-blog partnerships happening all over the country, at least in cities with forward-thinking papers.
So, really, Tri-City Herald … stop sounding so scared. Even though you cut staff in 2008 and then cut more staff and lowered wages in 2009, there’s still hope. Embrace the future. Online news, hyperlocal blogs, and citizen journalism is here to stay. You can’t wish it away via defensive editorials like this.