Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Imagine a world without newspapers

I recently read an infuriating article from the Los Angeles Times about a Pew Research Center survey that shows a disconnect by news consumers about where their news comes from.
Here’s the gist: When consumers were asked what their No. 1 choice for news was in 16 subjects, they rated newspapers as the top source in 11 of those subjects.
However, when they were asked what would happen if there were no newspaper, 69 percent — more than two-thirds — said there would be little or no impact on their ability to keep up with local news.
This jibes with my experience as a weekly newspaper editor over the past five years. People say all the time, “Oh, well, people are getting all their news online now,” as if all that online news just kind of magically appears.
Secondly, I severely limit how much news I put on our website because I want to encourage people to subscribe to the printed product. So, for example, when the Kuna school district was seeking voter approval of a $1.5 million supplemental levy this year, I wasn’t putting the full stories online — and I know for a fact that no one else was doing any reporting on the subject, not the other newspapers and certainly not the television stations.
So from that I can deduce that residents were not “getting their news online” about the supplemental levy.
And yet, here we are, the newspaper industry with this massive perception problem, which I consider to be a product of horrible marketing.
A supermajority of people think that if newspapers went away, they would have no problem getting local news.
I’m having an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment here. Imagine, if you will, Jimmy Stewart, not the owner of a savings and loan but as the owner of his local newspaper. He’s tottering at the railing of the bridge, ready to jump in and kill himself. Recognizing that would hurt his family, he instead tells his guardian angel, “I wish I’d never been born.”

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