Price | Newspapers Don’t Own Journalism
At the recent INMA World Congress of News Media, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said: “The greatest crisis in American journalism is the death of local news.” If local news means digging through a wet shrub every morning, followed by a fealty display of ink stained fingers, then he is right.
Mr. Banquet’s comments were specifically about local newspapers, which he correctly says are dying. Unfortunately, he also believes journalism will die with them. This is not an outlier belief. Even in the throes of death the former king proclaims all other pretenders illicit.
Is it true? Is the loss of newspapers also the loss of basic information, deep reporting, investigations, even democracy its self? I don’t think so. The loss of newspapers is really about the loss of a gatekeeper offering one-stop shopping.
In today’s America, television stations are producing more local information than ever before, but that is only part of the story. Consumers are also playing a role, using Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and multiple local platforms to share an unprecedented level of information 24 hours a day.
When discussing the loss of metro newspapers, apologists often cite coverage of school boards, so let’s use that as an example. Newspapers never covered every meeting of every school board. It simply wasn’t possible.
Today, every school board meeting is covered by multiple parents using their iPhones. Controversial matters are in the public realm before the meeting is over. Video is available immediately. Television stations, their websites and other media then pick the stories up, giving them whatever level of coverage, they deserve. No one has to wait until the next morning to find out what happened at the school board meeting.
Television stations are also playing a greater role in investigations. WTAE in Pittsburgh just won a First Amendment Award for uncovering a secretive $2 billion city offer to attract Amazon’s second headquarters. The station invested months of work and resources, then presented the story in great depth. WTAE is not alone. Stations across the country are making serious investments in their communities.
Some of these things are hard to see because we are in the middle of a transition from gatekeeper media to a much bigger and more complex world of information.
Those that morn the past will miss the future, and what a great future it will be. Technology, expansion of information and the role of consumers will all increase. The opportunity is to become the consumer’s trusted source, a curator of local information that the consumer can always believe.
Leading television stations are the natural candidates to become the trusted source, and many will. So, let’s take a moment to mourn the regicide of metro newspapers, then get on with building the future.
This is one in a series of occasional columns from Hank Price, a media consultant, author and speaker. He spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis. He also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a handbook for general managers.