Buy a Newspaper Today?

DSCF5570Today 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.

Yes, 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.

(10)

(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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuck Welch for Lakeland Local

15 thoughts on “Buy a Newspaper Today?

  1. After reading your article, I can see why you are no longer in the news business. The Ledger has one thing that you did not mention prominently: editors, which means that most of what you put online would be pulled from a daily newspaper due to inaccuracies or material that cannot be backed up with attribution.

  2. After reading your article, I can see why you are no longer in the news business. The Ledger has one thing that you did not mention prominently: editors, which means that most of what you put online would be pulled from a daily newspaper due to inaccuracies or material that cannot be backed up with attribution.

  3. I am going to print this out and show it to my Ledger advertising agent, so I can let her read it and understand why I don’t want to advertise anymore.

  4. I am going to print this out and show it to my Ledger advertising agent, so I can let her read it and understand why I don’t want to advertise anymore.

  5. My husband and I have been Ledger daily subscriber since 1993. I like the Ledger for its Local and Life – now condensed – sections. I read and sometimes “skim through” the Ledger every day with my cup of coffee in hand and every once and a while taking a crack at the Sudoku and Crossword puzzles. I’d still like to support our local writers, photographers and folks behind the Ledger scene by subscribing to read a hard copy, though more emphasis in writing local content would me more appreciative. I can read all of the “Associated Press” news articles online.

  6. My husband and I have been Ledger daily subscriber since 1993. I like the Ledger for its Local and Life – now condensed – sections. I read and sometimes “skim through” the Ledger every day with my cup of coffee in hand and every once and a while taking a crack at the Sudoku and Crossword puzzles. I’d still like to support our local writers, photographers and folks behind the Ledger scene by subscribing to read a hard copy, though more emphasis in writing local content would me more appreciative. I can read all of the “Associated Press” news articles online.

  7. I only buy a Ledger on Sunday and that is because it has coupons. Were it not for that, I would get all of my news online. Quite frankly, I don’t even watch the local evening news. I don’t derive any benefit from hearing about the latest string of break-ins or traffic crimes.

    CNN is where I go for national news and, well, I guess I read this blog for my fill of local items of interest.

  8. I only buy a Ledger on Sunday and that is because it has coupons. Were it not for that, I would get all of my news online. Quite frankly, I don’t even watch the local evening news. I don’t derive any benefit from hearing about the latest string of break-ins or traffic crimes.

    CNN is where I go for national news and, well, I guess I read this blog for my fill of local items of interest.

  9. While I glance through the Ledger online every moring, I make it a point of purchasing at least one — usually two — newspapers on my way to work to read over during lunch. Usually, it’s the Ledger and USA Today, but occasionally the Tampa Tribune replaces the Ledger. And especially as the family is living on a VERY TIGHT budget nowadays, I try to make sure I get the local paper with the most/best coupons.

  10. While I glance through the Ledger online every moring, I make it a point of purchasing at least one — usually two — newspapers on my way to work to read over during lunch. Usually, it’s the Ledger and USA Today, but occasionally the Tampa Tribune replaces the Ledger. And especially as the family is living on a VERY TIGHT budget nowadays, I try to make sure I get the local paper with the most/best coupons.

  11. Bob (2/2 #@ 1:59),

    Thanks for approving your comment for publication.

    Could you point to any inaccuracies I’ve written without a correction, or list any material I can not back up with attribution?

    As everyone knows, I am a stickler for making sure I get the facts correct. I also make sure the process is transparent. The few times I’ve had to update a post after learning new information, I’ve showed both the error, the correction, and even the correction for the correction that pointed out the original text was not in error.

    I wish I had copy editors, but I do have content editors. Each person who reads this site daily wouldn’t hesitate to point out any errors they find. Some through comments, some through email, and gleefully. I can’t recall any claim I’ve published an inaccuracy long after the post was published.

    I also can’t recall someone claiming an accuracy without pointing out the post. I’ll assume you were rushed, and not simply making a snippy and inaccurate accusation. So, I’ll ask again, could you point to any inaccuracies I’ve written, or list any material I can not back up with attribution?

    I look forward to your reply.

  12. Bob (2/2 #@ 1:59),

    Thanks for approving your comment for publication.

    Could you point to any inaccuracies I’ve written without a correction, or list any material I can not back up with attribution?

    As everyone knows, I am a stickler for making sure I get the facts correct. I also make sure the process is transparent. The few times I’ve had to update a post after learning new information, I’ve showed both the error, the correction, and even the correction for the correction that pointed out the original text was not in error.

    I wish I had copy editors, but I do have content editors. Each person who reads this site daily wouldn’t hesitate to point out any errors they find. Some through comments, some through email, and gleefully. I can’t recall any claim I’ve published an inaccuracy long after the post was published.

    I also can’t recall someone claiming an accuracy without pointing out the post. I’ll assume you were rushed, and not simply making a snippy and inaccurate accusation. So, I’ll ask again, could you point to any inaccuracies I’ve written, or list any material I can not back up with attribution?

    I look forward to your reply.

  13. See this is what I get for not reading all of Chuck’s stuff at the precise moment of publication. I would have recognized ‘ol Bob. Anyway, nice job, Chuck. And I can tell you from the experience of working with all those people that if a way is found to fund them, they will turn out a very good product. It’s a talented staff laboring as best they can under difficult circumstances. Here’s to them.

  14. See this is what I get for not reading all of Chuck’s stuff at the precise moment of publication. I would have recognized ‘ol Bob. Anyway, nice job, Chuck. And I can tell you from the experience of working with all those people that if a way is found to fund them, they will turn out a very good product. It’s a talented staff laboring as best they can under difficult circumstances. Here’s to them.

  15. Pingback: Lakeland Local News and Info from Lakeland Florida » Blog Archive » This is No Joke

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