Wednesday, October 07, 2009

TV version of Brokaw's story on historic newspaper misrepresents the state of rural journalism

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Tom Brokaw recently stopped in Emporia, Kan., as part of his NBC and USA Network documentary American Character: Along Highway 50, to profile the Emporia Gazette, founded by famed editor-publisher William Allen White in 1896. The three-minute segment is being shown on several NBC shows today before the full documentary airs on USA in January. In the piece, Brokaw arrives just in time to see the Gazette's printing press shut down for good after 114 years so the daily paper, circulation 7,100, can outsource the printing and dismiss its four-man press crew. Many small dailies have done likewise.

Brokaw asserts that because the "newspaper business is in free-fall," White's grandson, Chris White Walker, is doing something previous generations of family owners couldn't have imagined. That paints the community newspaper business as on the brink of annihilation, which just isn't true. As we recently noted, community newspapers' advertising revenue has dropped during the recession, but only half as much as metropolitan papers' has. While the Gazette has been forced to make cuts like other papers, Brokaw's characterization that the newspaper is surviving "for now" may incorrectly suggest that doom is just over the horizon.

The text version of the story on includes a key point not in Brokaw's video report. Chris Walker says, "Whether people read their news on newsprint or blackberries, telling the stories of the community is what its about. Newspapers will survive." In recent years the Gazette has begun publishing online and started a monthly Spanish-language edition for the growing Hispanic population in the region, the text story notes. The story finishes with this line of hope: "With that positive spirit and a willingness to embrace change, there is every possibility that Chris is right – and that one day a fifth generation of American Characters will be at the helm of the historic Emporia Gazette." (Read more)

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