Column written for the South Carolina Press Association
Newspaper Week observance.
Delivering the News
As a teenager in Pennsylvania, I delivered The Morning
Call and The Evening Chronicle to
customers in a suburb of Allentown. On rainy days, I’d
try to make sure the paper stayed dry inside the screen door.
Now, I get The State and the New York Times delivered
to my driveway in plastic bags, though the Times delivery
is erratic. I can, of course, also read the Times on
my iPhone, iPad and desktop computer.
As disseminators of news, we still deliver. True, some choose
to call us “content providers,” as though news
were an anachronistic four-letter word.
There is no question that the industry has gone through a
seismic transformation, though an industry built on the transitory
nature of events should hardly be static itself. A recent Reynolds
Journalism Institute survey, reported here last month, shows
publishers across the country are largely optimistic about
the business, including its paper-and-ink editions.
Most noteworthy, publishers of papers with smaller circulation
are the most positive. They are, like many of you, serving
communities that are best reached through the local newspaper.
Whether daily, weekly or something in between, it’s the
newspaper that delivers what’s
happening at city hall, on Main Street and on the local ball
fields. Local television can’t match that; radio is nearly
nonexistent, alas. Broadcast media are best at weather and
traffic, though you might keep pace with Twitter and a swift,
interactive web site.
The challenge, however, is to ensure that the jobs in those
smaller or mid-sized markets are meaningful and rewarding.
At a time when a teenager may have more Facebook “friends” than
a small town paper has readers, how are we competing to hire
better journalists to tell more compelling stories? What will
make them stay once they’ve got a handle on your community?
Part of my job as dean of a communications college is to assure
prospective students — not to mention their parents — that
journalism is still a viable profession. I wouldn’t say
that if I did not believe it. The appeal should lie in the
dynamic of the profession as it is now practiced across media.
I tell those students they certainly don’t want yesterday’s
job, probably don’t want today’s job, and I can’t
quite tell them what the job they really want will look like
when they graduate in four years. But it should not be diminished
by the fact the delivery system is changed. Editors and news
directors still tell me “content is king.”
Year after year, though, we have bright-eyed 18-year-olds
who want to be journalists. Yes, print journalists, though
we are, frankly, deleting the distinctions across media. Our
faculty has significantly revised our curriculum for all disciplines
to strengthen writing for a variety of media and maximize flexibility,
yet allow students to find a focus. We’ve got to deliver
so you’ll continue to deliver.