Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
The Orange County Register's recent recommitment to print journalism, under a new owner who might even buy the neighboring Los Angeles Times, is encouraging news to rural journalists like Rita Dukes Smith, who recently returned to the reporting staff of The Messenger in Madisonville, Ky., Hopkins County's daily newspaper, after 10 years editing The Leader-News in adjoining Muhlenberg County.
Community newspapers have been the healthiest part of the industry for several years, but are beginning to encounter online competition. Madisonville is also the home of SurfKy.com, an online-only news operation aimed at several counties, mostly in Western Kentucky. It came to mind as I read Rita's editorial in today's Messenger, titled "Print journalists are backbone of news industry." (Amen.)
Rita notes that the Register has "hired dozens of reporters to cover high school sporting events and meetings," as well as investigative reporters (and, as luck would have it, feature writer Amy Wilson, who is returning to the paper after stints at our Institute and the Lexington Herald-Leader). "Investment is being made in good, old-fashioned reporting," she writes. "The paper is bolstering its print quality while not abandoning its digital presence, according to a story by the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard." (That story, by Ken Doctor, is here.)
"Reading about the Register’s strategies is encouraging for those of us who make our living in the newspaper industry," Rita writes. "Print media has a higher standard to get the news right the first time. With clear, black print on white paper, a newspaper story becomes historical record. If we get it wrong, we can’t pretend we didn’t by striking the delete key on a web template like an online-only news source."
Rita says print reporters provide "an experienced ear and desire to find and report the truth. We go to meetings that you cannot always attend, unraveling the information you need to know and putting it in your morning paper in black and white, easy to understand language. It is then placed on our website for your convenience. The content is an extension or enhancement of our journalists’ hard work, experience and ethics. It is not a dot/dash, copy/paste replacement for real news." (Read more)
Rita's column has an epigram from the PressThink blog of Jay Rosen of New York University: “It’s absurd to claim that ‘anyone’ can be a journalist if we mean by that someone who knows how to find the right sources and ask the right questions, dig for information, counter the spin, produce a fair, accurate and unflinching account without libeling anybody — and do it all on deadline.” (Read more)
The Messenger, a Paxton Media paper, recently won the small-daily category of the Kentucky Press Association contest. And one thing about the Register: In a sense, it may be the largest community newspaper in America. Orange County has 4 million people, but is only a fourth of the L.A. metropolitan area and gets little coverage from the L.A. television stations that dominate the area. Like good community newspapers, it still owns the local news franchise, and it has several weeklies that help maintain it.