Why news­pa­pers still mat­ter in an online world

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

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.

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