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].

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.

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 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.

Future of news

News consumption is changing, and newspapers have to change too

Imagine three baskets in your newsroom – and you have to put every story in one of the three baskets.

One is labeled what, another one so what, and the last is now what? The idea of the baskets, the brainchild of Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza, comes from the reality that journalism has shifted away from being a “what happened” field.

Modern journalism was built on reporting what happened. We brought the news to America. People turned to newspapers to find out what was happening in their world. But that franchise has been eroding at the hands of first radio, then TV, then the Internet. For several decades now, our major metro newspapers have not been the primary medium people turned to for up-to-date information.

But community newspapers were different. Our job is not to cover the world or the nation or even the state. It’s to cover our city and county. And often, we were literally the only game in town – the only medium that had the reporters to go out and cover the news in print and photographs. People could read their news in the paper or in our online editions.

So whether it was a school board meeting or a football game or the county fair or a fatality accident just outside of town, we had complete and accurate information – and pictures. Sure, maybe people heard about the accident or talked about it at the coffee shop, but when the paper came out we satisfied their news hunger for complete information. They may have known who won the football game, but we gave them the quarterback’s completion stats, the number of tackles the star linebacker made, the post-game comments of the coach, and a rundown on next week’s opponent.

Radio and TV and the Web ate into the hard news franchise of the metros, but for community papers – not so much.

Until social media.

Facebook now has 1.6 billion users, more than 60 percent of whom are logged in for at least 20 minutes a day, according to the Economist. Contrast that with the Washington Post, which has the biggest Web traffic of any U.S. publisher. The Post received 73 million visits during the entire month of March, with readers spending an average of one to three minutes per visit.

No matter how small or isolated your community, people are spending lots of time on Facebook every day. When they hear about news, they share it – with pictures. It’s an axiom that a lie can spread halfway around the world while truth is putting on its boots. The modern media equivalent of that is that news can spread through your community while you are figuring out who should write the story.

So if your newspaper’s claim to fame is being first with the news, that ship has probably long since sailed. If you tell people only what they already know, they’ll think you are irrelevant. And nothing is so damning to a newspaper as the reputation that it contains “old news.”

Facebook is not a “detail” medium. Facebook readers get only the big picture, the major points of the news. But when we write that same story, what do we lead with? The big picture, the major points — so it’s the readers’ perspective that we’re telling them what they already know.

Of course, we still need to print the what-happened news, but there has to be more. As we move more of the breaking news to social media and our online edition (because you may be a weekly in print, but you have to be a daily online and in social media), that means we need to focus more on the other two boxes – so what and now what.

We don’t just tell readers what happened at City Council. We look for how those actions will impact citizens. What will that mean for their safety or their pocketbook or the economic future of the community? We do a rundown of the what-happened, but we focus on its impact on the community and on our readers.

So perhaps the school board has voted to reduce the teaching faculty in elementary schools as a cost-cutting measure. What will that mean to class sizes? How will it impact student learning and test scores? What do teachers think? A budget saving proposal might look good until your realize that your kid’s third-grade class will go from 25 to 34 kids – and the students with learning problems will be the most adversely affected.

Unfortunately, this kind of reporting takes more time. It’s a lot easier to take notes at a meeting and produce a story that reports votes and quotes from the participants.

The real issue here is staying relevant for our readers. And if it takes re-thinking our stories – classifying each as a what or so what or now what story, that will be time well-spent.

Note: This blogpost has focused on news coverage. To see how this same idea impacts sports coverage, see our earlier blogpost.



Community Journalism Future of news

“Do you think newspapers are endangered?” A community journalism perspective

So what if someone asks:  “Do you think animals are endangered?”

There’s literally no answer to that.  We know that mountain gorillas, elephants, rhinos and tigers are critically endangered and we may well see their extinction in our lifetime.

But other animals exist in abundance – rats, rabbits, dogs, deer and hundreds of others.

And that’s the problem with the question newspaper people are asked so often:  “Do you think newspapers are endangered?”

Here’s your answer for the next time someone asks: “Depends.”

And mostly, it depends on the size of the market.  Metropolitan dailies are in a world of hurt because their business model doesn’t work anymore. Large cities are media-saturated and there are countless places to get the news – and countless places for businesses to advertise.

Just over a decade ago metros made money from display advertising, classified advertising and circulation.  The big display accounts realized that there were many other ways to get their message out.  Classified died, killed by Craigslist and similar sites.  And circulation declined in the face of many other places to get the news.  Of course, as circulation declined, advertisers noted the dwindling audience for their commercial messages.

Depressing, huh?  But the metro newspaper is like the endangered animal – don’t assume that because lowland gorillas may die out that we’ll soon have no dogs or deer or rabbits. They exist in superabundance.

And people who would never lump all animals together find it easy to lump all newspapers together.  Lots of folk don’t realize that there are some 7,000 paid circulation weekly papers and around 1,300 daily papers with circulations less than 25,000 in the U.S.

So that’s around 8,300 community newspapers with a circulation of more than 45 million readers. Counting the pass-along rate (the number of people who actually read the paper, as opposed to the number who purchase it), readership of community newspapers in the U.S. exceeds 150 million a week.

Or take Texas.  Our largest newspaper is the Dallas Morning News, with more than 400,000 circulation.  But the No. 10 paper in circulation, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, has just over 27,000 circulation.  So obviously, most newspapers in Texas and in the U.S. are community papers.

Community newspapers still dominate in smaller communities.  Rather than just being one voice among many as with their metro brethren, they are often the only game in town.  You want to know what happened at City Council?  Why school taxes are going up? How the local teams are doing? Who was involved in that big wreck on Center Street?  Why the old warehouse burned down? What’s for lunch tomorrow at your kid’s elementary school?  Check out the community paper – because you won’t find it anywhere else.

One rural publisher, in a speech to a journalism conference, put it this way:  “To our readers, we are not the newspaper, we are their newspaper. Down the block at Rogers Mini Stop, we sell more than a hundred papers every week. If our press run is late we get frantic calls from the Rogers family. They have a store full of irate customers who want their papers now…. We all know the traditional reasons — the little stories that never would be considered ‘news’ anyplace else. Our readers really care about those things.”

So when someone asks why newspapers are dying, explain that they are talking about a small – if highly visible – part of newspaper journalism.  Most papers are community papers, not metros.

And we’re doing quite well, thank you.

Future of news

Presentation shares interesting info about the health of community newspapers

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, recently spoke at a meeting I attended and shared a PowerPoint presentation I thought you’d be interested in. Al has graciously shared that with us. Look it over – it has some information that can be helpful with you as you make presentations about the overall health of community newspapers – and some information your ad reps need to have to share with customers who have questions about the effectiveness of a newspaper ad buy.

Future of news Online news

Online startups grabbing market share

Here’s a startup to watch:  it’s called Patch, and it’s a company that goes into towns without a community newspaper or where the paper is struggling and starts a hyperlocal Web site.  Patch is exclusively advertising-supported.  Advertisers can either buy the traditional ad or get an ad where they pay by page views — $15 per thousand at this point.  Check out this Forbes article – Patch and other similar ventures are showing some success, and we predict that it won’t be long before more start popping up in Texas.

Future of news

Newspapers aren’t the first medium to face problems in this millenium

So here’s the quiz: Think of a media industry that’s facing real problems. The product of this industry used to be commonplace – everybody knew about it and pretty much everybody used it. Then a new medium came along with a significant challenge – people were getting the output of this industry easily, in their own homes, quickly on demand…and it was free! The industry asked what would happen when people could access for free what they were selling. Predictions for the future were understandably dire. And here’s the kicker – this isn’t about newspapers. It’s the music industry. Read Brad King’s take on why newspapers are wrong to circle the wagons and determine that they must make the square peg that is the old business model fit into the round hole of new media.

Future of news

New online news venture begins in Texas

One of the more interesting online news ventures in the nation is happening right here in Texas. It’s an online-only news site that was launched as a non-profit organization. It’s called the Texas Tribune, and it’s funded by readers who donate to keep alive what they consider a worthy cause. The editor is Evan Smith, former editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly. You can check out the new site at And even if you don’t go there, look at what promises to be a regular feature on that site – using animation and pop-ups to insert everything from humor to fact-checking to background information into a speech, inserted during the speech itself. Currently, the “victim” is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. You can see the “stump interrupted” concept on the Texas Tribune site, or access it directly from YouTube at

Future of news

Community newspapers healthy, but there are problems on the horizon

This article summarizes the current health of community journalism, but also says that there are problems that wise publishers need to pay attention to. One of those issues is competition. The author notes that community newspapers frequently point out that they have no competition. But, he correctly notes, to say that there are no other newspapers does not mean that there is no competition. The article also has a good discussion of the decline of classified ads under competition from Craigslist. Be sure also to check out the Associated Press article that’s cited several times in this article.