Why newspapers still matter in an online world
When I started in the newspaper business some 30 years ago, it seemed the biggest threat to our business was private radio: we used to listen with frustration to the small radio newsrooms as they “ripped and read” our stories, tearing them straight out of the paper and reading them wordfor-word as if they owned them.
It was more annoying than anything else to hear your work being presented while someone else takes credit for it.
At that point, the Internet hadn’t arrived yet, and I can remember lying awake after finishing a story, especially a contentious story, hoping I’d gotten every single thing right. I used to imagine the sound of the big web press kicking out paper after paper, unstoppable.
Now, that same story would be online the moment it was finished and edited - but the concern for accuracy is every bit as great.
“Rip and read” hasn’t changed that much - in the electronic age, it’s just become cut and paste.
Welcome to 2015. Last week was set aside as National Newspaper Week to highlight the valuable work of newspapers, and this year, the slogan was “the power of the press.”
In addition to the printing press, newspapers have blossomed into new areas. There are plenty of voices out there in the ether, ranging from the well-informed to the ill-informed to the downright uninformed, but newspapers are among the few sources that actually get facts first hand.
At the core of it is the need to actually go where news is, something that newspapers have been doing for centuries.
We’ve adapted during that time, too: newspaper websites and social media have given our reporters and columnists the ability to do the same kind of immediate reporting that used to be the particular preserve of the broadcast media.
We still have a unique ability to address local issues that matter: major news outlets don’t care about your neighbourhood until there’s a death or a shooting or an accident. Local newspapers are there to handle and inform debates over everything from the need for crosswalks to the ramifications of the latest school construction.
Bloggers and online comments may pooh-pooh the established media as “lamestream media,” but the dirty little secret is that they depend on us more than anyone else. They couldn’t do without us. They are building their sometimes-flimsy logical constructions on the rock-solid work of front-line reporters. The bloggers aren’t working the phones or holding the digital recorders - as much as private radio used to, and still does, rip and read, online commenters grab and gab.
It’s worth remembering that, at the very start of any issue, municipal, provincial or federal, there are thoughtful, careful, smart reporters doing their best to gather impartial news that readers, on any platform, can use.
It’s hard to imagine what our national discourse would be like if there were no reporters out there gathering and printing facts.
“The power of the press”? Well, the big old presses can still churn out newspapers as fast and as loudly as ever - albeit with much more colour capability - but that’s only the start of the reach of newspapers and news reporters now.
The press may look different than it ever has - but the need for it, especially as a quality source of local news, is as great as ever.