Newspapers role must never change
August 06, 2008
A recent conversation scared me. The gentleman, respectfully and honestly said to me, "I just don't read newspapers. I'm sorry, I know I should, I just don't."
I can't say it surprised me, but I'm sure you can understand my scare, can't you?
How in the world could this man be connected to the world, to his community, to what is all around him?
Unfortunately, it's a sign of the times and all of us in the business recognize it as fact.
The newspaper, in this gentleman's mind, is not an important part of the community and newspapers have little value to him. Instead, he gets his information, whatever it is he is looking for from other sources. I suspect, the Internet, TV sound bites, radio or perhaps simply word-of- mouth. I doubt little else other than his own day-to-day life interests him.
I've been thinking about newspapering a lot recently. And not just what happens in our small communities, I've been thinking of newspapering in general.
I wondered if people are informed and or interested in the string of misconduct allegations laid at the feet of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I wondered if they really care at all. As if somehow they are isolated from it all.
I wondered if the watch-dog efforts of the Detroit Free Press would go unnoticed. It is clearly a shining example of investigative reporting, using the Freedom of Information Act to get the needed documentation for what appears to be extreme wrong-doing on the part of an elected official.
All of Michigan should be thankful to the Detroit Free Press for their tenacity in covering this story.
And as Detroit goes, so does the rest of the state.
It's dangerous, it's a shame, yet it's reality—large daily newspapers are losing readers. Some of it is their own doing. Some of it, not being willing to face change. As if they are above all that.
New consumers under the age of 30 have already staked out a preference for the Internet. For younger people, the Web is already their main source of news. The sad news is the Web, unlike seasoned newspaper staffs, would not have the experience, the knowledge or the patience to follow the Kilpatrick story. The Internet can and is filled with innuendo, half-truths and lack credibility. The Kilpatrick story could have taken on a horrible blog-o-mania with no beginning or no ending.
With large dailies cost-cutting and downsizing to help reposition themselves for the future, I fear we are going to lose a lot of good reporters. A tragic erosion of important fact finding ability our society so desperately needs.
I believe the news media is an essential part of a functioning democracy. We prod and poke through data, interview sometimes reluctant subjects and stay late at meetings so you'll know that mortgage companies are ripping us off, or that toys from China could harm our children, or that military veterans are getting shoddy health care.
I understand where we are, it does not mean I have to like it or that I shouldn't fear parts of it.
And I understand there are people who don't think newspapers are all that valuable. They seem to think we are propaganda-mongers, biased and more interested in the bad than the good.
But, just think of what it would be like if we lost journalism to the Internet bloggers!
Who would pursue the truth? Who would present you with your information?
What next would the Mayor of Detroit have in store for us had it not been for a dedicated core of journalists and a newspaper willing to print it?
Newspapers will change, but the vital role they play in seeking truth, providing information that helps us choose better and live better must never change. You see I believe the value of a newspaper and reading one to stay informed is awfully important. A resource to life all of us should take seriously.
Newspapers must attract new readers, but none of us can afford to change the role a newspaper plays in society.
Let's hope it doesn't!
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