Not all newspapers are born equal… Shift the focus to content, otherwise there will be no future to worry aboutJune 25, 2007
I just returned from an excellent three-day Mississippi Press Association‘s Annual Convention and was encouraged more than ever about the future of the printed newspaper. Some of the high-powered speakers talked about the on-line newspapers and the transition from the traditional media to the new media. What surprised me, and a lot of the attendees, is that more than 80% of what was said applied to less than 20% of the newspapers in attendance. I was always taught that that formula should be just in reverse of what took place. In Mississippi there are 124 newspapers, 100 of them are non-dailies and 24 are dailies. The majority are community newspapers serving the needs and wants of their local community, and serving them well. What they are looking for is more help in expanding that help to the whole community. As one publisher puts it, “Our paper is the only paper that cares about our community.” And “care” in the community newspapers is completely different than the “care” in the national and regional newspapers. I came back more encouraged, and more challenged, from this convention that as a professor of journalism a teacher of future journalist, and a consultant I must devote even more time in addressing the “care” of the majority of newspapers in our state and the country. Mississippi newspapers are not any different than the rest of the country. The majority of newspapers in this country are local and community papers. We owe it to them to start focusing on their future. I reckon that if you add the revenues from all the local and community newspapers you will not be talking about small change. It is the future of the newspapers… the future as in ink on paper. Will “Billy” Morris III, Chairman and CEO of Morris Communications, said it best when he visited Ole Miss and spoke to my students. He reminded the students that the future of journalism is in “the necessity of journalism.” Journalism is needed, and is needed now on the local and community level more than ever. We owe it to our future journalist to prepare them to serve the needs of their communities and local communities in general. Yes, the world is flat, but we live in a completely “isolated connectivity” world. We feel connected, yet we are more isolated than ever. Our communities are in die-hard need of being really connected. The “necessity of journalism” plays a big role in that connectivity. Newspaper publishers and editors must shift the focus of their discussions to the “necessity of journalism” in their communities. That should be priority number one. Shift the focus to content; otherwise you will not have a future to worry about.