Today is “Buy A Newspaper Day.” The effort is an attempt to get readers offline and back to purchasing their local newspaper. The fact the campaign was conducted entirely online doesn’t escape me.
Nevertheless, I bought a newspaper today. In fact, I purchased two. The Ledger and the News Chief. The former, based in Lakeland, covers Imperial Polk county and cost $.75. The News Chief boasts that it is “SERVING EAST POLK COUNTY MORE THAN EVER.” Obviously a Winter Haven operation, it was a mere $.25. Both newspapers are “an affiliate” of the News York Times Company. The News Chief is nice enough to also call the Ledger an “affiliate,” but the Ledger doesn’t return the love.
What did I get for my $1? My true test of a newspaper is: how many articles by their own reporters versus how many articles pulled from wire services and out-of-town affiliates. The Ledger was 36 pages in three section: Main, Polk & Florida, and Sports. In the main section, which tends to cover national and international news, the Ledger had two stories by local reporters, and one of them was really a sports piece. I counted 14 Associated Press and other service stories. That doesn’t count the editorial pages. Other than Letters to the Editor, the rest of the content was written out-of-town. Well, maybe the 11 paragraph editorial on President Obama’s “sea change against secrecy” might have been locally written, but it’s too general to tell.
I turned to the Polk & Florida section with a good feeling I’d find plenty of locally written stories there. I found three written by Ledger staff or local freelance writer, four Ledger-produced columns, and eight out-of-town pieces and columns. One of the local pieces was actually about local fans attending, you guessed it, the Super Bowl. I did also find two reader poems and the obits. Strange thing about the obituary these days. If you want more than seven lines, you have to pay for it. Unless you’re famous or died in a hail of bullets.
Sports were the thing where we found the conscience of the Ledger.(1)There were seven Ledger produced articles; almost all on the Super Bowl. Make it 7.5 as there was a column of Super Bowl tidbits by “Ledger staff.” A page of Super Bowl photos included just one by a Ledger photographer. Add two AP basketball stories and we’re ready for the final tally:
The Ledger falls 16.5 to 24(2). Sorry, I fell into that Sports mode. It’s difficult to even say it was that close as more than half of the Ledger produced pieces were on the Super Bowl and related stories. There can’t been a lot of Super Bowl content special to Imperial Polk county. Most of the Ledger articles focused on the game and the star plays and players. Good sports writing, but considering the Super Bowl is the most covered and watched American sporting of the year, I doubt most readers couldn’t have found similar articles in most any newspaper in the county.
What does this all mean?
Gone are the days when you’d heft the paper onto the breakfast table and learn about your community and how it relates to the state, nation, and the world. The sad fact is that newspapers have become blogs.
You see, blogs started as individually crafted sites that almost exclusively pointed to interesting items found on the Internet. It seems our Ledger is much the same thing as an editor, or editors, finds the best of the other newspapers and wire services and puts it in a easy-to-read format for your breakfast reading.
The daily newspaper most of us remember from our youth is dead. There is no saving it. Readers never really supported newspapers, advertisers did. We were just the eyeballs newspapers needed to convince advertisers to place ads. The economy is hurting, advertisers are pulling back like turtles into their shells, and newspapers are laying off experienced reporters. The future is bleak to black.
But, I’ve come to praise newspapers, not to bury them. (3)
The future of the local newspaper is to return to the Wild West years and focus on the local community. Forget the stories of celebrities smoking bongs, and drop filler such as articles about a Texas family looking to clear the name of a relative(4). Use a local reporter to cover the story of a local Representative deciding to run for Agriculture Commissioner. Find the local angle for every story. If you really want to send reporters to the Super Bowl (party) then find a player that attended a local college, see if there is a cheerleader who once yelled “Give Me an L!.” or a concession vendor who will feed his family for a month on what he made in tips from over-served fans.
The newspaper I purchased today I could have watched on television last night. There was precious little I couldn’t have found online this weekend.
So why buy a newspaper?
Cary McMullen, Rick Rousos, Gary White, the Browns: Lonnie and Rick, Cindy Skop, Rick Runion, Michael Wilson, Scott Wheeler, Sarah Stegall, Suzie Schottelkotte, Tom Palmer(5), Bill Rufty, Jeremy Maready, Rachel Pleasant, John Chambliss, Shoshana Walter, Robin Williams Adams, Glenn Marston, Bill Blocher, Del Milligan, Trent Rowe, Kyle Kennedy, Kevin Bouffard, Heidi DeVries, Merissa Green, Michael Freeman, and Dick Scanlon (6).
Those are (most of) the reporters and photographers you’ll find in the Ledger, with apologies to those I’ve left off the list. All live and work in the area. All have an understanding of our community, our politics, and our history. They’re supported by editors, sales reps, clerks, and other locally based(7) staff. All (8) are the reasons to buy the Ledger.
Maybe we can convince Ledger publisher Jerome Ferson the secret to reversing the readership and advertising loses is to pull back and focus on Polk County talent and stories. It’s fine if that means cutting back to once or twice a week publication. We’d understand. No one reads the paper for breaking news anymore. Take your time to craft stories with insight and community pertinence. We’d buy that newspaper and keep it on the breakfast counter for the weekend. (And wouldn’t you love to tell your advertisers the paper stays around until every page is read by every family member? Who throws away a weekly magazine before it is finished?)
Today wasn’t the last Ledger I’ll buy, but I really hope I’ll get more McMullen,Rousos,White,Brown,Skop,Runion,Wilson,Wheeler,Stegall,Schottelkotte,Palmer,Rufty, Maready,Pleasant,Chambliss,Walter,Adams,Marston,Blocher,Milligan,Rowe,Kennedy,Bouffard,DeVries,Green,Freeman and Scanlon (9) for my money.
(1) Apologies Bard.
(2) I didn’t include the comics at all. There hasn’t been a locally produced comic strip in years.
(3) Sorry Bard. Again.
(4) Both articles were in in today’s newspaper.
(5) Yes, Tom Palmer
(6) Yes, even Dick Scanlon, though he apparently doesn’t think Mark McGwire deserves a Hall of Fame vote.
(7) I do not count the staff for operations the Ledger has outsourced.
(8) See #6 and add Tim Raines
(9) See #6 and add Andre Dawson
(10) What about the News Chief? This is a Lakeland-centric site. You’ll have to read about the News Chief later this afternoon over at Metro i4 News.