Categories
Front Page Future of news

Let them print

The students studying journalism at Texas A&M University could have a valuable tool hampered by that school’s administration.

Taking away the print product produced by The Battalion’s staff by TAMU Pres. M. Katherine Banks, who at her own admission didn’t get why a paper newspaper matters, seems shortsighted.

“I’m not a professor of journalism; I don’t understand exactly why [print media] is important to the field,” The Battalion quoted Banks saying.

None of the journalism professors who work with the paper were asked for their input, according to the staff report.

Why ask an expert you trust to teach your students for their thoughts before making a sweeping announcement that you’re altering a paper that’s over 100 years old?

When I got to the University of North Texas, I had big plans for my future in journalism.

I was going to double-major in journalism and international studies and a minor in Spanish with the intention of becoming a foreign correspondent.

War had been in the news since Sept. 11, 2001. I graduated from high school in May 2007.

My history and language courses were filled with lessons about the difficulties people in third-world countries faced.

Plus, I wanted to do something that made a big impact on the world.

When I got to UNT, the way I wanted to immerse myself in the journalism world was to work for the North Texas Daily.

My professors helped us understand the value and impact our reporting could have when done well.

I got to practice my skills at news reporting, leadership, opinion writing, copy editing and various other aspects of working at a newspaper.

My work there helped me land an internship at the Dallas Morning News and led directly to the work I did with the Community Impact Newspaper after I graduated.

I’m grateful life took a turn from my aspirations of being a foreign correspondent to working for this local newspaper with a young family, but the work I do is still important. Without the practical experience I got at the Daily, I would have been lost in the transition to the work force.

The Daily was a laboratory with real accountability for any mistakes I or my fellow journalists made.

It was also a place where we as student journalists worked next to professional journalists, both still in the field and on the college’s staff.

Those professors would mercilessly tear apart our work with literal red marks coating the printed page, telling us how we could improve.

I still remember many of those comments as well as the tiny drawings in the white space that we left bare.

If such a major change is going to happen to a university newspaper, it should be done with the input and direction of the stakeholders who understand the stakes.

On Wednesday, Banks indicated that she might be changing her mind, in large part to the response to her decision.

“I care deeply about journalism at Texas A&M,” she said to The Battalion. “The reaction to this plan makes it clear that I should seek additional community feedback on the role of The Battalion and the rebuilt Department of Journalism, while also getting feedback about industry trends and future workforce needs.”

I commend her for taking the feedback, and criticism, she received and being willing to re-evaluate her decision. I hope that keeps the paper printing for years to come.

Abigail Allen is the Managing Editor editor of the Pilot Point Post-Signal. She can be reached at [email protected]

Categories
Engagement Newspaper management

Great ideas for engaging with your community

In explaining my work, I sometimes say that there are thousands of really good journalists in rural America, but all too often they are the only person in their newsroom that fits that description. They suffer from the isolation of rurality, with fewer opportunities than urbanites to rub shoulders and exchange ideas with their professional peers.

That observation applies to independent rural publishers, too. They may attend state newspaper meetings, but there’s nothing like the National Newspaper Association convention, where editors and publishers from New England, the North Woods, the Great Plains, the Corn Belt, the Deep South, the Intermountain West, the Pacific Coast and other regions exchange ideas. That’s especially important for the approximately one-third of weekly newspapers not owned by groups, which can be sources of ideas (and instruction). Get them together, and the love to help each other.

This was on display at the Great Ideas Exchange at the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention in Milwaukee Oct. 3. There were too many ideas to share in this limited space, but here are some themes and standouts:

Engagement with the audience is a key task these days, and some circulation ideas at the session were good examples. The Lancaster News in South Carolina delivers to funeral homes 10 copies of the paper for distribution to families and friends who want a copy of an obituary. With a sponsor, the copies count as paid circulation.

The paper also gives all its yearly subscribers a page of coupons (usually $5 each) worth a total of $25, and is trying to get to $50, the price of a one-year-subscription, Publisher Susan Rowell said. The promotion has converted a lot of sox-month subscribers, and “You do something for your loyal customers just to keep ‘em,” she said.

Effective engagement means taking every opportunity to build loyalty, and that includes people in the newsroom.

The North Scott Press of Eldridge, Iowa, asks subjects of its stories, “Where do you read the paper?” That indirect approach is better than asking if they subscribe or buy it regularly. If their answer indicates that they don’t, the next question is “Would you like to receive it at home?” and offer a three-month free trial, Publisher Bill Tubbs says. The staffer making the contact gets $3 for a free trial and $7 for a paid subscription.

Many newspapers have made magazines and directories good revenue sources. The Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, produces a Churches of Douglas County magazine every other year, charges $50 for a listing and gives each church 10 copies. Some papers provide membership lists that the paper uses to solicit sponsorships, Publisher Jody Hanson said. “It’s a really good reference guide,” she said, adding that some churches initially declined to participate, but now say “Don’t ever do it without us.”

The Echo Press also hires a Santa Claus for three hours after school, asks parents to bring a food item to donate to the needy, takes photos of Santa with the kids, provides a link to the pictures and prints them in a holiday-greetings section with kids’ letters to Santa.

Hanson also had a good idea for the typical “progress edition” many papers publish in winter when ads are slow: Along with features on businesses, list building permits and related reports from local governments, which are documentary evidence of community development.

Lettie Lister of the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, South Dakota, said she was told

told that “progress sections were dead,” but theirs attracts many non-regular advertisers. It’s not called a progress edition, but “Our Towns,” which sounds like something that people will keep a long time, adding to its ad value.

The Pioneer marked its 140th anniversary by mining its historic archives in the last quarter of the 19th century, starting with reports of the battle at Little Big Horn. The paper did a feature every Saturday, then a compilation without ads but a $10 price tag.

A newspaper’s big anniversaries can be celebrated with a section that also celebrates lesser anniversaries of other businesses, said Peggy Scott of the Leader in Festus, Missouri. It marked its 20th and 25th anniversaries and chose the most compelling stories of other businesses, with no repeats between the two.

Don’t run a bunch of extra photos without considering opportunities for a sponsored page, spread or even a section, said Mary Huber of the Archbold (Ohio) Buckeye. Local schools have many events that lend themselves to this: athletics, theatrical presentations, science fairs and so on.

Local festivals are natural opportunities for special sections, but the Grant County Herald in Minnesota takes up a few notches with a $100 treasure hunt for a hidden “newsbox” with a coin, promoted with a spread of ads with clues to its location. Almost every advertiser participates. The last clue is posted at the Herald office during the festival, and dozens of people line up to get it.

Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Solutions urged publishers to do a total-market-circulation edition once or twice a year: “Advertising more than pays for it, and it’s a really god promotional thing” for circulation.

I added that my institute encourages newspapers to include a health and wellness section in its TMC editions; our research shows that people need and want health information, and are more likely to subscribe to the newspaper if they know it regularly has such information. Also, most health-care providers have a budget for advertising, and newspapers are leaving a lot of that money on the table.

One of the session’s more interesting ideas came from Dick Seibel of the Silver City (New Mexico) Daily Press and Independent. In New Mexico, each county has a lobbying day during legislative sessions, and his Grant County has long had one of the more ostentatious. The paper does a special section about the county’s attractions and its legislative priorities, printing 3,000 extra copies that are distributed to legislators and other officials and around the capital of Santa Fe. Seibel said the project reinforces the importance of the newspaper to movers and shakers. And that’s what makes this idea worth mentioning. Wish we could have included them all!

Categories
Circulation Future of news Subscriptions

Darrell Royal was right, and newspapers should pay attention

Darrell Royal was famous for his formula for winning football:  You gotta dance with the one what brung you.  In football, you have to keep doing what made you good in the first place. If you were undefeated by running the ball, you keep running it in the playoffs.

And that concept works for newspapers, too.

The doom-and-gloom crowd always focus on the “paper” part of the newspaper compound.  Paper is a dying medium, they say.  And they may be right.  But if we’re going to succeed, we have to focus on the first part of that compound – the one what brung us.  And that is news.

Newspapers aren’t popular because they’re printed on paper. They grew to popularity because they gave people the news they wanted.  Local events.  Names. Faces. Calendars. Sports. Opinion. Pictures. Information.

And guess what?  Scholarly research confirms what we have always known.  A Northwestern University study last year showed that regular reader habit and strong coverage of local news were the key factors in keeping subscribers.  But they wondered … was that also true for small news outlets?

So they did a follow-up study on 12 small news outlets.  Not surprisingly, they found that the same local news emphasis that causes people to read metros also sends them to your newspaper.

One of the things they found was that the more frequently subscribers connect with you, the more likely they are to hold on to their subscription. Large newspapers realize that even publishing daily isn’t enough, so they have rolled out a number of newsletters to make their brand more valuable for readers.

The takeaway for community newspapers: We have a hot commodity – news.  But we can’t just deliver that on paper once a week.  We have to be the go-to medium for news in the community every day.  At TCCJ, we used to say that you could be a weekly in print but you had to be a daily online.  That seems short-sighted now.  We can’t just put news up daily on our website – we have to use social media and newsletters to get that news in front of our readers.

Websites assume that readers come to them.  But social media and newsletters don’t wait for readers to come to them – they go to the readers.

We still have a commodity readers want.  We just have to get the news – branded with our name – in front of readers, and do it more often.

Categories
Engagement Story ideas

For newspaper readers, advice can add a lot of spice

Former magazine editor Rix Quinn writes a weekly feature for 100-plus newspapers, and business biographies for trade magazines.

What writing format has flourished in American newspapers – and magazines – for over 200 years? If you answered “advice columns,” give yourself a warm handshake.

Yes, these features have been around longer than this country. Even way back in 1722, Ben Franklin wrote a question-answer column (“Silence Dogood”) for his brother’s newspaper in Boston.

An advice column offers three distinct advantages: (1) It gives the reader a chance to interact with the writer. (2) Experts can offer ideas on virtually any subject, and the column can even be sponsored by an advertiser. (3) Most important, advice columns are often cut out of the paper, saved, and quoted around the home or office.

Expert advice is big business

Think of all the famous writers who’ve offered advice over the years. We’ve all heard of Ann Landers and Dear Abby, who offer personal advice. And there’s also Miss Manners, and Hints from Heloise, plus loads of other columns about religion, and car maintenance, and animal care, and clothing selection, and internet use, and…well, you name it.

I’ve often heard that advice and self-help is a gigantic business. Americans reportedly spend $11 billion a year on self-help!

Let me share a personal story about how I discovered the power of advice features.

Many years ago, I worked for my Dad’s trade magazine company. He was a former newspaper editor.

He told me one informal way to gauge a story’s impact was to find out how many times it got forwarded to another person, or displayed in an office or home. This meant the reader cared enough to clip the article out of the publication.

What stories do people clip out?

I researched more, and found out folks displayed clips on office bulletin boards or home refrigerators. (Did that mean the news had gotten cold?)

In homes, people posted family photos, children’s artwork, obituaries, invitations, grocery lists, and advice articles.

At the office, workers displayed quotations, business cards, calendars, cartoons, and advice articles.

Of course, today that “clipping” is mostly electronic as readers link to the column in social media or forward a link by email.

Clip-ability equals memorability!

We made consistent efforts to shorten news and feature articles to under 250 words. We carried many brief quotations from industry executives.

We posted famous saying on the back of subscription renewal cards. And we regularly carried advice features from business experts…not only from the industries we served, but from experts in other professions too.

How to get started?

How many experts could offer advice in your community? Do you have an accountant, or a dentist, or an exercise studio, or somebody else who might want to write – and sponsor – a question-answer column?

I’m convinced that each column should be under 250 words. Each column should offer an e-mail address, and ask questioners to write to that address.

Here’s what we did: After we received a question, we did not publish the questioner’s name unless they gave us specific, written permission.

And…each column carried a disclaimer that said something like this: “Answers offer the views of this column writer only, and not this publication.” I am NOT an expert on this! You should check with your attorney for specific wording.

Finally…

I’ll be glad to talk to you more about advice columns…for free. Just call me at 817-920-7999 or email me at [email protected]

 

 

Categories
Community Journalism the role of the media

In today’s world, journalism really does matter

The bag that I carry gets a variety of reactions from an assortment of people.

A stark black bag with a simple white font featuring the phrase, ‘Journalism Matters, #Nottheenemy’ is met by some with scoffs, others with disdain and even a few positive, ‘Hey, I like your bag!’

Those I suspect come from closet journalists or perhaps subscribers to a newspaper.

“Journalism Matters!” takes on different meanings for all kinds of journalists.

June 28 will mark one year since five individuals who worked at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland were killed.

Gerald Fischman, 61, the newsroom’s editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, 59, an editor and features columnist; John McNamara, 56, a sports reporter and editor for the local weekly papers; Wendi Winters, 65, a local news reporter and community columnist; and Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant, all lost their lives.

The shooter took revenge about a story that had been published in the newspaper, a piece similar to ones that our papers have previously published. I would hazard a guess that the majority of publications throughout the newspaper industry have also published similar articles.

Their journalism mattered.

Last week, as yet another shooting unfolded in downtown Dallas, and Dallas Morning News photojournalist Tom Fox was caught in the middle.

When many of us, even trained professional journalists, would have simply hidden from the shooter, Fox captured images that would grace front pages across the nation.

His forethought, bravery and dedication to his craft were on display as the portrait of a shooter in an active shooting situation was captured.

His journalism matters.

For a local newsroom in neighboring Hunt County, staffers at the Greenville Herald Banner stood in shock after severe weather ravaged their community Wednesday, June 19.

Pushing aside worries about their own homes and safety, they reported to work capturing history and providing essential information to their citizens. They embraced the fact that journalism matters.

With no electricity, in oppressive Texas summer temperatures, they picked up the pieces and went to work. They put out a paper and continued to update mobile applications.

In a time of crisis, their journalism mattered. A lot.

With the fourth anniversary of the July 7, 2016 Dallas Police shooting on the horizon, many of us can recall images captured from both professional journalists and those citizen journalists who added to their reporting efforts.

Their memories helped honor the five heroes who tried their best to save lives and countless other officers who stopped the shooter.

Their journalism matters.

And so does ours.

Last year, 53 journalists across the world were killed for their efforts to bring the truth to light. Some died covering wars. Others were murdered over their work.

Without boots on the ground, facts and essential stories would remain hidden.

Truth, such as that brought to light by Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, would remain in the dark.

Khashoggi was killed in a Saudi Arabian consulate after criticizing the Saudi state.

Democracy dies in darkness.

Though not dodging bullets or avoiding car bombs, a passion for local journalism is a feat in itself. Long hours, limited resources and interacting on a daily basis with those who you report on is not for the faint of heart.

In this world, my passion for journalism has only grown. And so has my dedication for covering it.

If you aren’t a subscriber of The Times, or any of our other publications, I encourage you to do so. It’s one of the best investments $33 can get you.

After all, journalism matters.

Categories
Engagement Social media

Engaging in disengagement: Publisher drops his social media accounts

I joined Facebook about three years ago.

I deleted my Facebook account earlier this week.

I decided I didn’t need it.

Even crazier, I deleted the News-Record’s Facebook page as well.

While these moves may seem counterintuitive for a community journalism professional, I thought I’d air my reasoning out here.

Until September 2016, I had resisted Facebook.

I assumed it was a waste of time and was nothing I was interested in.

I was forced into joining by a graduate school professor who decided he would host all of his online lectures that semester on Facebook Live.

The university offered a perfectly fine video conferencing tool— it was better, actually— but, this professor saw something media savvy in the newly offered Facebook Live application.

While I assumed this was the act of a young Mass Communication professor trying to build his tenure application by trying new things, the mandate required each class member to join Facebook in order to be a member of these sessions.

So I did.

I remember telling my wife then, “You hear about all these people complaining about time wasting on Facebook; I’ll probably become one of those people.”

I was right. I did.

While I think social media is a great tool, I’ve seen its terrible side too.

We witnessed obscene comments— via social media— earlier this year when a football coach wasn’t rehired.

They played out for days as comments on the News-Record’s original report of a school board meeting.

I eventually removed the original post. I figured we wouldn’t print such trash in the actual newspaper— why let it play out there?

Then I was criticized, by some, for trying to “control the narrative.”

I’ve seen seemingly grounded intelligent people share blatantly false news reports on Facebook as if they were the gospel and then not care about them being false when it was pointed out.

This is part of the problem with Facebook.

Facebook told the Washington Post last week, “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”

From day one, Facebook has maintained that it is a platform and not a publisher.

But they want the protections of a publisher— first amendment rights and all— without the responsibilities of a publisher.

As a publisher, I am subject to libel laws and standards of ethical practice.

The paramount of which is that what he publish must be true.

Yes, satire is protected; but satire is another story.

Facebook just admitted they don’t care if what they dispense is the truth.

Thereby, they are part of the problem.

They have also admitted their business model revolves about harvesting our personal data.

To Facebook, we are not an audience. We are the product they sell.

All of this legal and ethical stuff aside, me leaving Facebook was a personal decision.

I was just wasting too much time on it. I’d sit down to check my feed and look up and it would be an hour later.

And I wouldn’t be any better for the time I had spent.

I am not the type who can look at it for a minute and put it down for a day.

I am too nosey.

So, it’s time for me to re-center the energy of being nosey to more productive means— enterprising community newspaper reporting.

I was able to do that before Facebook came along.

I was also able to meet my wife, have four wonderful kids, graduate college, build a successful career, grow a great circle of friends and maintain a passion for performing live music— all without Facebook.

While you may miss pictures of what I’m having for dinner, I am still available for cup of coffee and conversation whenever you can stop by the office.

Businesses nowadays are concerned with “engagement.”

The trend is trying to find new ways to achieve “engagement” via social media.

To me, “engagement” is what we used to do before we got so busy monitoring our social media feeds.

It is a place we need to get back to.

Categories
Rural journalism the future of community journalism

In today’s media world, newspapers must fight local complacency by proving they are relevant — and needed

Does the reportedly mixed reaction to the death of a small weekly newspaper on the Lake of the Woods show we have entered “the golden age of ignorance,” as Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins declared?

Perhaps, if newspapers can’t convince communities that they are an essential civic asset.

Collins’ declaration came in a follow-up to MPR reporter John Engler’s report on the May 7 demise of the Warroad Pioneer, one of three weeklies in Roseau County, on Minnesota’s northern border. Engler paraphrased New York Times reporter Richard Fausset: “He said he spent a week in Warroad, talking to locals about the paper closing. He admitted that most folks, outside of the Pioneer staff and their husbands, didn’t seem too broken up about it.”

Fausset disputed that, in an interview with me: “I talked to a lot of people who were very worried the newspaper was going to quit. What MPR reported does not accurately reflect what I found in the town. There are a number of people concerned about what happens next.”

Engler did a little of his own reporting on the point. After paraphrasing Fausset, he wrote: “Out on the streets of Warroad, a handful of locals backed up his assessment,” and cited one who “gets his news from Google, ‘just like everybody else.'”

That comment reflects “monumental ignorance,” said Reed Anfinson, former president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson in central Minnesota. “There is no local civic reporting from Google. Google captures our work and pirates it – if it is available.”

Anfinson also said, “A reporter finding some disgruntled, or disinterested, people and using them to imply definitive assessment of the community’s feelings about the newspaper, I find troubling.”

Publisher Rebecca Colden told me, “There were people coming in throughout the day who said just the opposite.” Interviewed before Fausset was, she said, “I think Richard’s saying they’re just complacent with the value of a newspaper. They like it, but they don’t value it as they should.”

That feeling, Colden said, helped her decide to close. She said she met with many people in the community, looking for ways to rejuvenate the paper, but “The challenge was that there is a complacency within these small communities, that they just feel like the paper will always be there, especially a paper of this age.” The Pioneer lasted more than 120 years.

And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t warned the whole town, in stark fashion. Colden said the Pioneer was the first of many Minnesota papers to run a blank front page in 2017, asking readers to imagine that there was no local paper. She told me that she did the sort of accountability news coverage that readers expect, and “They’re gonna miss all the information they didn’t know they needed.”

Colden said she could have borrowed more money and taken the risk of converting to free, total-market circulation, “but I need to know that there’s really community buy-in to do that, and . . . the community buy-in was really lacking.” She said that showed in school news, a local-paper staple: “Teachers and coaches just throw some things up on social media rather than send it to the paper.”

Engler reported that Fausset was assigned to “tell the story of the prototypical American small town losing its voice.” If so, he seems to have made a good choice; the paper is like many rural weeklies that have closed in the last 15 years: in a small town outside a county seat, with a shrinking advertising base and independent ownership that couldn’t or wouldn’t negotiate a sale or merger.

We don’t know the whole story. Colden said she couldn’t work out a deal with the paper’s former owners, Page1Publications, who have five nearby weeklies, including one in Roseau County. That was after she’d considered going to free distribution, and then tried to compete more directly with the county-seat paper, the Roseau Times-Region, 22 miles away. As often happens, local loyalties trumped other factors, she said: “Because of that community loyalty over there, we were never able to capture that advertising base.”

She said her local ad base has shriveled because Marvin Windows and Doors, the main local employer, has “a new generation of workers” more willing than their predecessors to shop in other towns. “It doesn’t bug them to drive two hours to go to Walmart,” she said, so more than a dozen of Warroad’s approximately 50 storefronts are empty. “We’re really a community in transition.”

But on the other side of Roseau County, in a similar small town, the Greenbush Tribune is thriving, owner and newspaper broker Julie Bergman of Page1Publications told me. Yes, having five papers in a cluster gives them economy of scale, but the Greenbush editor is a local man, Ryan Bergeron, who came back home to take the job. Bergman said he makes sure that the Tribune has content that is relevant to its readers.

“In order to survive, you have to have something in the paper that people want to pick up,” Bergman said. “They’re going to learn something.

Whatever the causes of the Pioneer’s death, it “is more than a one-off loss of a newspaper,” Anfinson told me. “I am hearing from newspaper publishers and executive directors of state newspaper associations that their concerns about the future of small-town weekly newspapers is growing.”

Almost a year ago, Anfinson was featured in a Rural Blog item headlined, “Times get tougher for rural newspapers.” Now it seems even tougher. As the old saying has it, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Newspapers must prove to their communities that they are relevant, and needed. As Bergman said, “There needs to be more education.”

Categories
Community Journalism Engagement Future of news

Newspapers need to explain how we work — more letters FROM the editor, not just TO the editor

Newspapers cover almost every imaginable topic, but when it comes to understanding and explaining their own roles in society, many community newspapers fall short.

They keep doing business and journalism pretty much like they always did, with digital media as a sideline because they can’t make much money at it. Their presence on social media is often desultory and uninspired, even though social media have become the dominant form of mass communication.

These newspapers are disengaging from their audiences – or perhaps we should say their former audiences and their potential audiences – at a time when they need to be more engaged than ever. There’s a war on journalism in America, and it’s not just being waged in Washington, D.C.

Today’s media maelstrom has left much of the audience uncertain about what a newspaper is, or what it is supposed to be. Newspapers need to explain that clearly and consistently, through all available forms of media (more on those later).

At a time when Americans are more dubious than ever about sources of information, newspapers remain the primary finders of fact. But for some reason they have been bashful about making that their brand, or even thinking of themselves as having a brand.

What is our brand? At last month’s Ohio News Media Association convention, I said it can be built around three Rs: reliable, relevant information, delivered responsibly. The third R most needs explanation.

When I was first learning journalism and the news business, one newspaper I read regularly ran a standing box on its editorial page. “Daily News Platform” told readers what the paper stood for. It’s been a long time since I saw such a device, but it’s time to bring it back, in a different way.

If I were running a newspaper today, its home page would have a button labeled “How We Work.” It would take readers to a page explaining the paper’s purpose and the ways it tries to achieve it. Shorter versions of it would run in print every day, usually on the editorial page.

“How We Work” would start by explaining the different forms of information media, to help readers understand the different and special roles that newspapers play in our society, and the challenges they face. Here’s the version I offered in Ohio:

This is a newspaper. It reports facts. To do that, we verify information, or we attribute it to someone else. That is called the discipline of verification, and it is the essence of a craft called journalism, which you find in news media.

There are two other types of media: social media, which have no discipline, much less verification; and strategic media, which try to sell you something: goods, services, ideas, politicians, causes, beliefs, etc.

Newspapers once relied on one form of strategic media, advertising, for most of their income. Today, social media get more of the ad money, so newspapers must get more income from the only other reliable place they can get it: their readers, in the form of subscriptions or single-copy sales. As you might guess, we prefer subscribers, so we hope to earn your respect and loyalty.

How do we do that? By being honest and straightforward about our business.

That means we must separate fact from opinion, reserving our own views for the editorial page. Of course, our views have some influence over what news we choose to cover, so if you think we’re not covering what should be covered, or have failed to separate fact from opinion, or make another mistake, we want you to tell us. You can do that privately, or publicly, in the form of a letter to the editor. If you raise an important issue that we think needs wider perspective, we may invite you to join us in a discussion on social media, and perhaps bring that discussion into the newspaper itself.

We want to hear from you. We are in the business of holding others accountable, so we must be accountable to you.

Accountability journalism is necessary if our democratic republic is to function the way the Founding Fathers intended. That’s why they put the First Amendment in the Constitution. It gives us great freedom, but with that freedom comes a great responsibility. If you think we are not living up to that legacy, please tell us.

That’s fewer than 350 words, about the length of a little-longer-than-usual letter to the editor in most papers. We need more letters from the editor, not just statements of general principle, but explanations of how and why we do certain things. If we demand transparency from officials and institutions, we must practice it ourselves. And build our brand at the same time.

One good example came from Brian Hunt, publisher of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, in a column he wrote in May 2017, titled “Community Journalism in the era of fake news.” We excerpted it on The Rural Blog; you can read it at https://bit.ly/2sQtB5k. Hunt’s best passage gave examples of the extreme without being judgmental:

“I’ve been challenged on why we include people of color in our newspaper. I’ve heard from readers who question why, when two-thirds of our region voted for Trump, the U-B would ever publish anything remotely critical of his presidency. I learn things in these conversations. Most notably, the people I speak with are not unaccomplished, not unintelligent, not uncaring.  We know these people. You know these people. Fake news and the isolated intolerance that can feed it gets to us all.”

After the column ran, Hunt said the paper got fewer calls, and fewer subscription stops, complaining about bias in the paper. Good journalism is good business, especially when you explain it.

Categories
community issues Community Journalism

Closing of newspapers leads to more local political polarization

The rise in political polarization in the U.S. in undeniable, but it may have nothing to do with the politics, according to a recent article published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

National publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have seen tremendous growth in the age of polarization.

But what about local publications?

According to NiemanLab, in 2006, local American newspapers employed over 74,000 people and circulated to 52 million readers on weekdays. In 2017, this number dropped significantly to only 39,000 people employed by a local paper and a circulation of fewer than 31 million Americans.

The“death” of newspapers has been much-talked-about, but the political polarization that arises from a lack of local news hasn’t been discussed near as much.

The Journal of Communication” argues that losing a local newspaper can encourage citizens to rely on national media, which is typically overwhelmingly partisan, and can change their opinions while voting.

NiemanLab found that “voters were 1.9 percent more likely to vote for the same party for president and senator after a newspaper closes in their community, compared to voters in statistically similar areas where a newspaper did not close.”

Additionally, NiemanLab reported that split-ticket voting decreased by 2 percent in towns that lost their local newspaper.

What can we do to stop it?

My answer: Support your local newspaper.

A couple dollars toward a subscription to your local publication could make the difference between a city filled with polarized, one-sided news and one filled with honest, unbiased reporting — information needed to participate in your democracy.

Pay a few bucks. It’s worth it.

Categories
Ethics

It’s time for a community journalist to win a major ethics award

Has any rural journalist has won one of the major journalism-ethics awards? I don’t think so, and if that’s right, such honor is greatly overdue. It is generally more difficult – and can be a lot more difficult – to do hard-nosed, ethical journalism in rural areas and small towns than in metropolitan areas, partly because of the constant conflict that rural journalists must deal with, between their professional responsibilities and their personal interests: family, friends, business relationships and so on.

That’s what I said on The Rural Blog last month in announcing the Jan. 15 deadline for the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, given by the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. It has the earliest deadline of the annual ethics awards; details are at bit.ly/2DuyrKH.

In the last few months The Rural Blog has featured work of three great rural editors, all women, who displayed the professionalism, gumption and common sense that it takes to do good, ethical journalism in rural areas.

After she heard rumors of sexual assaults involving a middle-school football team in Edina, Mo., Edina Sentinel Editor Echo Menges was told that seventh- and eighth-grade players had sodomized up to five fifth- and sixth-grade players with metal objects while other students watched. The school superintendent and sheriff wouldn’t confirm details, and the school board wouldn’t let parents talk about it at a meeting, so Menges began talking to children and parents and published a story.

The parents insisted on anonymity. If Menges were asked in court to reveal those sources and refuses, she would face jail time since Missouri doesn’t have a shield law protecting journalists from having to reveal anonymous sources. “This is an important enough story that I would be willing to go to jail for it,” she told Anna Brett of The Missourian. Our Rural Blog item on her work is at bit.ly/2DNn7KL.

Editor-Publisher Stevie Lowery of The Lebanon (Ky.) Enterprise was instrumental in passing a school-tax increase, did a five-part series on drug use and published stories on a transgender teenager and the county’s first same-sex marriage. For this and more, she won the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, given each year by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Lowery said in accepting the award that rural journalists have to educate audiences, take stands, be watchdogs and be willing to lose friends. “We write these stories to educate people – to help them understand, to open their eyes, their minds, and their hearts,” she said. “Often times, newspapers have to take a stand . . . In small towns, that can cost the newspaper staff a friend or two. But, at the end of the day, newspapers have a responsibility to be the watchdogs for their communities, for their country.” Our report on her work and her speech is at bit.ly/2BdHZs0.

A recent winner of the Smith award, Sharon Burton of the Adair County Community Voice, wrote an unusual editorial about National Newspaper Week, saying she had seen no editorials on it that acknowledged journalism that has “problems with bias and misinformation.” But she concluded, “Journalism may not be done perfectly, but this nation would be ill served were journalism not allowed, encouraged, and supported by our citizens.” We noted it on The Rural Blog at bit.ly/2QUsiLC.

Election shows rural-urban divide: Democrats took control of the U.S. House but Republicans gained seats in the Senate, which is more rurally oriented because each state has two senators. The Rural Blog picked up several good analyses of the results, including from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Hill and Axios, at bit.ly/2zi2diP. The WSJ’s Reid Epstein and Janet Hook had an excellent second-day take, saying “The midterm elections brought to a head a decade-long realignment of the U.S.’s major political parties, with Democrats winning contests in and around major cities while Republicans carried rural and small-town America. Just as rural white voters fled the Democratic Party after Mr. Obama took office, educated suburbanites abandoned the GOP after President Trump’s election.” Our blog item, with charts, is at bit.ly/2QNGdCZ.

The election also highlighted the rural-urban economic gap. In October, Bill Bishop and The Daily Yonder produced an interactive map that showed job growth in rural America continues to lag the rest of the nation. You can get to it via bit.ly/2PFw0Mv.

Rural economy: Decisions by Amazon.com and Google to put big facilities in New York and the Washington area showed that “Smaller cities are also pulling in educated workers, but are having trouble competing for the nation’s most prized jobs and biggest projects, while rural areas are falling behind,” The WSJ reported.

We noted that many rural economic developers hoped that the internet would allow people to work from anywhere, and the Journal said experts thought “tech workers would scatter across the country as firms sought cheap office space. Instead, places like Silicon Valley and Seattle proved that clusters of highly skilled workers fueled innovation at a faster pace.” We added that the lack of high-speed broadband in many places has limited the ability of some small towns to capitalize on the internet economy. Our Rural Blog item is at bit.ly/2S0NaRn.

Despite all that, most rural Americans say they value rural life and are optimistic about the future, according to the ‘Life in Rural America’ survey by NPR, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They do economic issues and drugs as the biggest problems facing rural areas. We reported on it at bit.ly/2qSeNAA.

If you report or see news that should be on The Rural Blog, email me at [email protected].