Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
I remember well the good old days. TV news came on twice a day (long before cable), and newspapers came out twice a day in Minneapolis. Anything worth knowing about was delivered that way. There really was nothing else.
Today, however, information comes at us non-stop from all directions. The latest, of course, are Facebook and Twitter. But there are RSS feeds online, Google News (and many others), many 24-hour news stations on cable, e-mail newsletters and blasts, and more.
But does the sheer quantity of available news mean we're getting quality news? I say no. No more than the constant availability of music, from much the same sources as news, makes it necessarily quality music.
For a couple of years now I've heard the argument that newspapers aren't needed now, in the age of the Internet. I say they're needed even more now than ever. (And it's not just because I happen to work at a newspaper.)
In the past two or three years, television news has cut way back. They broadcast more often, but with far fewer people, and especially far fewer journalists. I listen to the 5:00 news pretty much every day, and at least 90 percent of what they read on-air consists of the same press releases I received earlier in the day or they're reporting on what some newspaper in the state has printed. Precious little is actually generated by people who work for the TV station. That's sad, for TV anyway.
Radio news is pretty much the same: press releases (that go to just about everybody in the news business) and what newspapers have covered.
Want to rely on the Internet for your news? Well, ask yourself just who is providing that news. There are dozens (if not thousands) of what we call "scrapers" on the Internet. They set up computer code to automatically "scrape" news content from websites that put up news content, usually newspapers and television news. The "scraped" stories are assembled on a page and presented to readers on a page, sometimes e-mailed to those who ask to receive it. But are these sites actually creating anything. Nope.
Think of it as a bunch of jukeboxes out there, digital jukeboxes. They collect and present stories they don't create. They don't pay the creators of the stories to use them. And they try to make money for themselves (via advertising) off of the creative work of others. (The Associated Press, by the way, is heading a movement to end such "scraping" of copyrighted content without pay.)
But who cares about newspapers? What happens when a local newspaper goes away? Remember last month when the small town of Bell, Calif., made the national news? Eight city employees and council members were arrested in a $5.5 million corruption case; they'd been stealing city funds for personal use, taking illegal loans and claiming salaries of nearly $800,000. Bell used to have its own paper. It got bought out by a chain in Los Angeles. No local coverage, no "light shone into dark corners," no "watchdog." And look what happened, in a fairly short period of time. No one else was covering the city of Bell, not until things had evolved to the point of scandal anyway. Now everybody knows about Bell.
So, back to local newspapers.
While giant, top-heavy daily newspapers have been tumbling these past years, most community weekly papers have been holding their own and doing well. Some are even thriving, even in these difficult economic times.
Why is that? How is that? Well, local newspapers do something that no TV news or Internet "scraper" can do: local news. And I mean local news. (When was the last time you saw a story on TV or the Internet about someone, anyone, making Eagle Scout? Here, that's news! News that's important to the young man and his family, but also to his whole community. And no one else is going to report it.)
The Tri-County News has been online for more than 10 years now; for us it's not a passing fad or the latest technotrend to jump into. Even before I owned the paper, I paid to put it online. I believe that's important. It's an important adjunct to the printed paper. While there is a good deal of overlap, the print and online Tri-County News really are different, and we're making those distinctions even more pronounced now. There are things online that are not in print, and several things in print that won't be online (particularly things about students, and that is largely for safety reasons).
Nearly all newspapers are now online, at least in some form. Everyone tells us that our website is particularly good, and we work really hard to make it so. We update it daily, and our readers can request to receive those updates every morning by e-mail. It's a way for us to present news that happens between the weekly print editions, too. But it's intended to be a supplement to the printed version of the paper, not a replacement for it.
We work hard every day to provide you, our readers, with the most relevant and interesting content each day and each week. We appreciate you, our readers. And we appreciate you, our advertisers. You are our very reasons for working so long and so hard. We welcome feedback from you so we can continue to improve.
I view my role as editor of the Tri-County News (and TriCountyNews.MN) as that of information valet. I receive hundreds Ð literally hundreds Ð of pieces of information every single day. I go through that information and filter it down to what is relevant to our readers, here. We also create information that's important and relevant to our readers. Then, each week, we serve up a big "plate" full of photos and stories, ads and events, something for everyone and every interest, and local.
Our website masthead reads "Local people. Local stories. Local life." And we live that every single day, in a way that no one else can.