As I mentioned earlier this summer, I was in Iowa this week speaking (along with Steve Buttry) to a group of 8 newspaper journalists (editors and publishers) at the Iowa Newspaper Foundation’s Leadership Seminar series.
The topic was “Leadership in a Changing Media Environment.” My part was to talk about how the Internet changes the news equation, and what kind of free tools are available to enhance the news organization’s Web presence.
It was a fascinating three hours (even though my luggage was lost and I ended up in a t-shirt and shorts for the discussion), and one that brought me back to my roots in small-town journalism (I was the editor of a weekly in Texas for four years before heading off to graduate school).
The main takeaway for me was that many small newspapers are still struggling to figure out how to use their web presence, with the constant idea that it’s taking away from the print product (cannibalizing).
It took quite a while for me to argue for putting breaking news out (football updates, city council updates, etc.) via Twitter or other online means.
“Why would people then read the print product?” asked one participant. Because there’s *more* there than in a 140-word tweet, was part of my answer.
But the main answer, my main ideal that I’ve been talking about for over three years in this blog, is that “news” is more important than just the bottom line. If you’re in the “news” business, then your job is to report the news, to be the “watercooler” for your community – the place where people go to get the information they need to navigate an incredibly complex world. If you’re locking all that news up behind a paid wall, you’re not fulfilling your community service aspirations. You’re no more than the local Wal-Mart.
I honestly don’t see the Internet and the printed product as competing in these smaller communities (yet). I see them as complementary. The online presence can add depth to the printed product. It can add to the advertising side as well if used properly. But that will ultimately require seeing both Internet and print as parts of the process.
I hope the editors and publishers who left the conference went away with some ideas to inspire them to change their online strategies and be more proactive in the online space. Only time will tell.
At several points during the conversation, I said emphatically that I wished I had tools like Twitter and YouTube and WordPress and other free online tools when I was editing that small-town newspaper in Texas. My journalism would have been stronger, and the connections to the community would be deeper. That’s what every small-town newspaper publisher should aim toward.
I’d say the same for my college newspaper, where I was editor. As a journalist, I want to be in the conversation. I want to be the place people go for information. As more people do that online, I can’t help but feel we need to follow that movement and use all the tools at our disposal to make that happen.