Imagine two restaurants sitting next to each other on a downtown street.
The first has a large, attentive staff. Items on the menu are new and exotic. The food is fresh and in ample portions.
The second is barely staffed. The menu lists items you can find anywhere. The portions are small and uninspiring. When the waiter finally visits your table for the check, you comment about the service. Oh, sniffs the waiter, it’s the Internet’s fault. Everyone orders food online now.
This analogy comes to you courtesy of the current state of the newspaper industry. I live in Upstate New York, a fairly blue-collar, economically challenged region where any paper could blame the economy for paltry readership. Except it’s not true. Rochester rates first in the country for adult readership rate with 87 percent, Buffalo third with 86 percent, Syracuse fifth at 85 percent. Mathematically, that means if you passed 6 adults on a street in those cities, 5 of them read the local daily. Admittedly, that includes those perusing Web sites, but that still denoted devoted readership and flies in the face of the rush to call papers (Webbers?) a dying medium.
But some news organizations are dying from the inside, as corporate ownership continues to phase out positions and present aggressive buyouts. Through consolidating staff, one local paper has virtually eliminated all the interesting reasons people read it, whittling down to basic cops and courts, rewritten news releases and lots of wire copy. Gone or reduced are specialty columns (its differentiation), long and probing articles, community coverage of any depth. The blame falls on the Internet, the economy, demographics … but some papers still exist that didn’t gut staffs but retained unique and interesting features, thus continuing to stay vital. If you get rid of your best reporters and editors, your product will suffer just as much as if a restaurant eliminates its serving staff.
I’m not saying newspapers don’t have challenges. I AM saying that just repeating doom and gloom, and corporate policies that cut, cut, cut are not the answer. If you had a product that reached 5 out of 6 people in your market, would you be trying to kill it? Instead, creative solutions and investments — such as former employees of the shuttered Seattle Post-Intelligencer banding together to create the new online Post-Globe — are needed to sustain a new brand of journalism. Just food for thought.