…and considering my early career experiences with small papers, that takes a lot of doing.
Alex Brooks, editor of the Eastwick Press, in rural upstate New York, wrote a very moving and insightful piece about his experiences starting up a small paper. This paper, tiny in size but big in impact (at least in its circulation area) is an example of the power of good old local (since dubbed “hyper-local”) news.
The letter/editorial was reprinted at the Greylocknews blog – I excerpt a few bits here:
When big-media Cassandras come to our conventions and
prognosticate about the future of journalism being interactive and
hyper-local, we just grin at them, because that’s what we’ve been doing
all along. Sure, we’re moving more of our activities on-line, but
that’s not the key thing. The key thing is that people are engaged with
what we’re doing. The high school kids are interested in our paper
because they and their friends are in it all the time. When I write an
article about something people are interested in, I know I’m going to
hear from a lot of people. Some will e-mail, some will write letters,
some will chat me up at the local diner, and some will telephone the
office. Most of these people I already know, some may be just joining
the civic conversation.
My challenge is to find ways to have all these
people be heard in some way. Sometimes they are quite articulate and
can write a letter to the editor for publication. Others are not too
good with language. When they have legitimate concerns and insights,
it’s my job to find a way to give them a voice.â€œIt’s
a noble calling, and it can make a huge difference in the civic life of
the community. It’s a lot of hard work and the pay isn’t always
munificent, but you can make a good living at it and you get to call
the shots editorially, answering to no one but your readers
This really resonates for me. The lessons I first started picking up four years ago, when I was doing the piece on how The Point Reyes Light was saved from bankruptcy, because it was so relevant to its community that the people refused to let it die … they all keep making more and more sense to me.
I don’t know what this means, yet. I’ll admit that. The crystal ball is cloudy – ask again later. Maybe what we’ll wind up with is a few mega-media outlets doing all the national and international news, watchdogged by a constellation of niche interest bloggers and citizen journalists acting like Digital Minutemen when something in their sphere of interest is getting harmed/extolled/mentioned/successful. That would leave a significant gap in the ecosystem in the middle – in all those places where there have been fat cash cows, i.e. the mid-size dailies that Gannet and its ilk snarfed up and retooled back in the 80s.
I do know this. Nature abhors a vacuum, and people need and want good, solid, factual news about their neighborhood, town, county and state. Whether or not they get it on a dead-tree edition delivered to their doorstop every day is not up to me or anyone else. The internet and the many-to-many communication it has enabled is a macroeconomic force that has gathered enough momentum so that only an Alien Space Bat charged particle-beam weapon can fry it out of existence. If the mid-size papers go under, as all the folks at AdAge seem to feel is inevitable, something will eventually arise out of the evolutionary muck to replace them.