blogging / industry news

Thornton: Newspapers are killing themselves

Pat Thornton is rapidly taking his place alongside Paul Conley as a one-person quote machine (TM). Today, he takes newspapers to task for vapid, shallow local coverage:

The irony is that the local reporting is where newspapers and journalists could be hitting home runs. Instead, we find decreasing amounts of good, local reporting. Journalists are being asked to do more with less — AKA produce shallower content.

I also see many papers with business, tech, health, living and other niche sections. The problem is other publications and Web sites cover those areas much more throughly. With CNET, TechCrunch, etc why would someone want to read shallow and cursory newspaper coverage of the tech industry? Business? Motley Fool, MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal, etc, etc have that covered.

I’d suggest you read the whole thing, but I’d also like to throw up a softball solution for some of these issues. Perhaps it would require some paradigm shifting on the part of local journalists, but I wouldn’t suggest local newspapers abandon their business, tech, health, living niches.

When I started in journalism, one of my first jobs was as a features writer for the local daily. Before the days of 24/7 Internet access, we were the main local source for the AP Wire. Access to the AP wires was like a needle of information heroin for a news junkie. Some of my best stories were localized features about national “trend” stories.

I think that still can be the case. Business, health, lifestyles, tech, could just as easily be local strengths if covered correctly. Where are your local tech companies? Who’s doing business in a unique way? Why not local stories about off-shoring, Internet economics, or gas price crunches? What are the challenges facing your local health community? What are the options in your community? What are people doing – lifestyle-wise – in your area that sets it apart from the national scene?

Unfortunately, newspaper staffs are stretched thin. Pat’s right about that. But I don’t think you have to give up coverage of a particular “genre,” if you can re-tool and present something fresh, local and important to your readers. Don’t cede the niche, subdivide it. Thorough on a national scale does not equate to thorough on the local scale.

On the college campus, I think there’s still room for experimentation and expansion. Not enough students read TechCrunch or Motley Fool to make an impact. You can be the go-to place for health, business, lifestyles, and tech if you plug in to the Internets and find the local angle correctly.

Just as an example, you can take this weblog. I don’t have nearly the resources to cover all the innovations happening in media. But I do find material that is relevant to my audience – college media advisers and college journalists – and try to find the local angle. You think Michael Arrington and TechCrunch are going to do that? As if they had the time!

Of course, the challenge will be once you leave the college environment, you’ll have to explore and reinvent that niche in a new location for a new audience.