Guest editorial: Country Mouse

Getting news right, instead of now


Budding journalists may not agree on much other than this: they’d all love to work at the New York Times.

And despite what preconceived notions you might have about its liberal bias, the Times has long been home to some of the greatest conservative writers. But politics aside, who doesn’t want to start at the top?

This is anathema to small town newspaper owners who spend their lives greasing the carousel of comers and goers in the field of journalism.

But it is what we do. We often spend weeks, maybe months recruiting what we believe will be a good fit only to see that young man or woman soon decide that it’s time to see how they might fare in a bigger pond, thus starting the cycle again.

My own bonafides started at a newspaper currently in the top 69 in the nation. Which is to say, it ranks 69th (Omaha World Herald) and that’s as big a newspaper as I’ll ever work. As much as I might have liked to own such a behemoth, the fact of the matter is, I ain’t no Senator’s son (nor am I a William Hearst). So when it came to buying papers, I started small because that was my only choice.

And as I’ve watched our big city cousins slit themselves with an infinite number of cuts (the internet) I’ve come to believe that even if I could afford the Seattle Times (13th media market), I wouldn’t want it.

For one, the world has changed. All newspapers thrive on giving their readers access to news, information and entertainment that is vital, hence the reader will spend a few bits to keep themselves in the know.

But the internet, and mind you this is mostly the fault of newspapers, has predicated a system where you can no longer wait a day, or even until we can run an “Extra” off the presses, for your news. You need it now.

And the universe is willing to supply such information, albeit riddled with errors and opinion (fake news) and provide it to you now.

So while most markets once had a morning paper and a more reflective, evening paper, now every newspaper in the world must compete with every media outlet in the universe.

And while competition generally makes for a better product, in the world of today’s media, most of us have to scroll through a hundred click-baited headlines to find one informative and fact-checked story.

So you can see why some of us prefer a more staid approach to journalism. We don’t want to get it to you now, we prefer to get it to you right. In some cases that means we have the luxury of six days to get the story as right as we can - to check our facts and to get more sources.

But there is an even larger chasm in the newspaper business and that is one of corporate greed.

For me, the great evil of capitalism is publicly traded companies. Newspapers like the New York Times have been family-owned and operated for generations. And those families are morally beholden to their communities.

Newspapers strike a bargain with their readers: we will provide you with information that’s important enough to you that you’ll shell out a buck or two, and we promise not to mislead you.

Yes, we will use the arrangement to make a profit by selling advertising (which usually accounts for 75 percent of a newspaper’s revenue) but the reason a newspaper lasts for generations is because it is credible. That is to say, your grandparents believed what they read here and so you can believe what you read here.

Today that idea seems archaic and mostly that’s because of greed, so the newspaper chains that find themselves on rocky shores these days have no one to blame but themselves.

During the 1990s those chains (and this happened in most industries) competed to purchase newspapers solely to own those markets. That competition resulted in chains paying 10 times what a property was worth because newspapers then were making ungodly sums and those chains needed to serve the interests of their stockholders, above that of their readers and their advertisers.

It was an economic bubble, which burst, but now we see the survivors of that bloodletting getting back on their feet as they once again set aside the core principles of journalism to enrich themselves.

And we are all poorer for it.

You and I know that local ownership of any business has myriad advantages over absentee or worse, publicly traded companies.

But instant gratification has little sustenance, leaving us hungry for more, and in an instant.


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