Barry Friedman, the “Managing Editor/digital” for the newspaper formerly known as the Lakeland Ledger, last night asked of his readers, “Do we cover too much from one side of the county or the other? What should we cover in your home town that we’re not covering currently?”
Now, I read my hometown newspaper every day, and I’ve got an opinion or two. Plus, Barry mentioned me by name, so I’ll throw my two cents in his general direction.
First, thanks for asking. Readers always love to be involved in the newspaper coverage process. I hope you get dozens of responses. I’ll bet the short answer to almost every response will be “cover more of my town and less of their town.” They will all be correct. The Ledger does feature far too little (insert your favorite map direction here) Polk coverage. We’re talking about a county the size of a state. The Ledger doesn’t have the news hole to cover the whole county; unless the advertising department is selling more ads than they were this morning. (That isn’t a swipe at the ad crew. I am sure they’re selling all they can in this current climate.)
What’s a new Editor to do? The local newspaper is still trying to be the reporter of record. That was true when I fell in love with newspapers. But I am old. Maybe it is time to try another model. Free room in the paper for what matters most to local residents — local news.
I have a safe idea to open some room: forget the latest celebrity gossip. It was on 10 channels, 14 Web sites, and numerous discussion boards long before the Ledger placed it above the masthead. Unless the celebrity is from Polk County, lived in Polk County, or was arrested in Polk County, and you can spin a Polk County angle…let the paparazzi and celeb sites handle the news.
I also have a radical idea to open additional news holes: Drop the international news. It is old news before the Ledger prints it on dead trees. We no longer get all our news from paper. The International press has reported it; the talking heads have discussed it; the documentary channels have dissected it; the Ledger is just reprinting the news wire, and New York Times reports.
What about the national news? It is a maxim that “all news is local.” In the 21st century we can usually read the local report of every event. A bridge falls in Minnesota and we can get much better detail from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Our Polk County paper simply can’t cover such events. Now, I know some national news, especially from D.C., will have local angles. Our paper would simply lead with that angle.
That still leaves a place where a Polk County paper can compete. Imagine if every story was local? There would be room for all the East Polk news, West Polk coverage, rural concerns and urban interests.
You mentioned that I think the Ledger needs to “focus more on Lakeland.” Yes, but not exactly as that sentence would lead you to believe. Not too long ago, my local news box was filled with some odd East Polk edition of the Ledger. I found the stories interesting. They even get a comic or two I don’t see in my edition.
Here’s where I think the Ledger can shine. Separate the sections into East Polk, West Polk, State, Sports, Human Interest, and Classifieds. Give us all the same edition of the newspaper. Don’t fall into the middle of the East vs. West Polk news coverage debate. Maybe we’d learn why we have differences instead of blindly complaining about “the other side.”
Pump life back into the columns. The columnists are your home run hitters. They have a local angle we can’t get from any other news source.
What about those without the news channels and access to the Internet? If it is a matter of choice, then they have chosen to pull back from the news. If it is a matter of expense, then they can discover the joy of the local public library. It was my lifeline to the world for many many years.
Looking at the Ledger’s website you’ll see the international and celebrity news is downplayed under the local and state news. Maybe it is time the print edition follows that model?
Yours in local coverage,
Let me explain. Chuck Welch, who authors the LakelandLocal blog, often teases The Ledger for not including Lakeland in our name. (I corrected him once when he called us The Lakeland Ledger, so he takes great delight in pointing out every time he hears somebody using that name.) — A Matter of Perspective
I must mention that this name of this blog is Lakeland Local. Please note the space.
Update: Thanks for the fix.