Tuesday, February 05, 2013

S. Calif. paper's investment inspires rural journalist to wave the flag of print journalism

By Al Cross
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.

1 comment:

BRATCH said...

As an owner and operator of an rural news website, I couldn't help but respond to the story you posted on the Rural Journalism blog recently.

The portion of the story which really made me bristle was the idea that print media is somehow superior to all other media. I feel that is painting with absurdly broad strokes.

The editorial that Rita Dukes wrote for the Madisonville Messenger gives off the elitist notion that a journalist's work is only as good as the ink and paper it is printed on. As if ethics and standards elude those of us who don't have access to a million dollar web press.

My brother and I are just about through our first year after founding the Ohio County Monitor and we publish news exclusively online. We have about 7,000 unique visitors coming to our site around 16,000 times a month, all without spending a penny on advertising.

I worked in the newspaper business for a decade, mostly as a photographer, and have 10 KPA awards to my credit. However, the work we do here at the Ohio County Monitor and the work the folks at Beech Tree News in Morgantown, Ky., and other exclusively online news sites deserve better than to be looked down upon like we are nothing more than Perez Hilton-wannabe's reporting on Taylor Swift's latest boyfriend issues.

Sure, some sites are better than others, I know mine isn't anywhere near what I want it to be yet, but we are at every fiscal court, city commission and chamber of commerce meeting in our community. Right now, I would put Beech Tree News' work up against just about any weekly newspaper in this state.

When we write stories about these meetings, we post audio clips from the meetings or video of speeches being made, both things that won't show up in newspapers.

I don't have a problem with newspapers, but I can tell you that I never opened one to actually read in the time I worked for them. The reason I decided to start the OC Monitor was to give the people of my community the news in a way I wish I had it offered to me and there are plenty of others that have done the same thing.

We aren't lesser journalists simply because our words aren't in ink on paper and we don't hide our mistakes simply because we have that ability. In fact, I would like to think that any journalist would want to be judged by their work itself and not the medium for which that work is presented.

We are open-minded journalists that are trying to tame the beast that newspapers insult, ignore and fear the most and we are reaching a large segment of our rural communities that don't read newspapers and never will.

Dustin Bratcher