Some dispatches from around the nation about the current state of journalism and local news:
In the wake of Alden Global Capital’s takeover of Tribune Publishing, the other shoe has started to drop, as big-name columnists at the Chicago Tribune have elected to accept an Alden buyout (instead of potentially being shown the door in a few months in the name of additional cost-cutting). The latest casualty is Mary Schmich, who bid farewell to her readers in a graceful Sunday column. Robert Feder, who covers the Chicago news scene in his blog, has the details.
The New York Times’ Katherine Q. Seelye has a story about the launch of The New Bedford Light in Massachusetts, a new online nonprofit news site that plans to focus on investigative and explanatory journalism. It’ll go head-to-head with a shrinking Gannett paper in the town, The Standard-Times. One key to the Light, its editors say, is that it won’t include previous print staples such as police blotter items or high school sports. “We cannot go down the route of the daily newspaper that tries to do all things for all people,” said the Light’s founding editor, Barbara Roessner. “The challenge for us is to stay disciplined to do the deeper work and not be caught up in the daily news cycle.” And that’s solid, strategic thinking — explanatory and investigative work is the sort of coverage that tends to get scaled down first as resources in newsrooms get tighter. But there’s a potential problem there — items like the police blotter and high school sports tend to draw well, as measured by the online analytics that every newspaper editor monitors closely every day.
In the meantime, don’t forget that we have mid-valley news sites that are experimenting with this online hyperlocal approach, most notably Brad Fuqua’s Philomath News. Brad has seemingly solved the problem of what to cover by doing what he’s always done — cover everything that he possibly can.
Finally for your consideration today, here’s a provocative column from Politico’s Jack Shafer, in which he pinpoints what he sees as the biggest issue facing local-news advocates. As he puts it:
The local news movement won’t make much progress until its proponents realize that its primary obstacle is a demand-side one, not a supply-side one. It’s not that nobody wants to read local news; it’s just that not enough people do to make it a viable business.
I’m not ready to throw in the towel on local news, but I have to agree: Shafer has a point, and it’s probably not a persuasive argument to say that, well, local news is good for you, just like, say, canned peas. Back when I was at the Gazette-Times, we used to joke about replacing the paper’s slogan, “Your Community … Your Newspaper,” with a new one: “You’re Going to Miss Us When We’re Gone.” But maybe even that new slogan would have been overly optimistic.