Mar 11, 2010 ellen leahy Uncategorized
Le Moyne communications major hosts long time Colorado newspaper editor as visiting writer
Le Moyne Professor Dan Roche introduced this year’s visiting writer, Steve Henson, by urging the audience to visit the blog newspaperdeathwatch.com. There you will find its blogger, Paul Gillin a self-proclaimed newspaper junkie, following the decline of print journalism, and supporting a new online model. But Gillin’s message doesn’t entirely ring true for Henson, the managing editor of The Pueblo Chieftian in Pueblo, Colorado who spent the better part of last week engaging with Le Moyne’s communication majors.
Henson does concede that the large urban paper’s model is in trouble, but his paper is thriving. Has the Chieftian had to make changes to their operation? Yes. Have these changes hurt? A little, but he said these changes haven’t effected content or the mission. You see Henson is a community journalist. He and his staff care about their readers, the residents of Pueblo. The Chieftain is the third largest daily in Colorado with a circulation of 50,000. Local stories represent 50 to 70 percent of its daily content. His reporters write on average two and a half stories a day.
“They (newspapers) have got to reflect their communities, a mirror,” he said. He tells his journalists to go into McDonalds and ask people what they care about.
Essentially, get out of the newsroom and go to the people. His take is that newspapers lost touch with their readership. People want to know who is doing what in their communities and why.
How did newspapers lose their way?
Henson said decisions were made by graduates of the Jerome Howard School of Journalism. Who is Jerome Howard? He was the actor who played Curly on the Three Stooges. “Knuckleheads,” Henson said.
It started when everybody fell in love with the USA Today model. A model that was set up for people traveling, on the go, looking to catch the major headlines. Everybody went nuts with graphics, little breakouts and six-inch stories. When local newspapers did this, they lost their completeness, which is telling their readers not only what happened, but why it happened.
Newspapers got a little heady, too. “We reported all sorts of things that our readers got bored with,” he noted.
People want to know what their city council and school boards are up to. They want to know what businesses are opening and which are closing. They want to know who is getting married. And they want to know why. Why did that car get broken in to? Why is that school failing? Why did that happen?
He also said the industry was very shortsighted when it fell in love with the Internet, with slideshows and videos. The advertising revenue model has been demonstrated not to work with the Internet. Beyond this, newspapers got hit by the classifieds moving from its pages, and then top all this off with the recession.
And to do the work it takes resources. That’s time and talent.
The good news
Here are the statistics: in this country 104,000,000 people read a daily newspaper; 115,000,000 read a Sunday paper. He contrasted this with 23,000,000 watching television’s most popular show, American Idol.
“The statistics are positive,” he said.
His paper is blogging, twittering and on facebook. But they are not putting a lot of resources into it. “If we are blogging, we can’t be out reporting the news,” he said.
Papers have two main costs, production and labor
Papers in general are starting to consolidate press operations. The smaller papers with the old presses are outsourcing printing. This cuts cost and raises print quality. Meanwhile, it adds revenue to the larger operation with the better press.
The staffs are being asked to do more. For example, he took on the job of proofing the obituaries. It adds up to an extra half an hour a day, but saves the company overall $40,000 a year.
During the Q&A, the Post Standard’s managing editor, Stan Linhorst, stood up and introduced himself. He said, similar to the Chieftain, the Syracuse daily was privately owned and that its circulation had never been stronger if you count the hits on Syracuse.com with the paper’s circulation numbers.
A remark had been raised by a member of the audience about the Post Standard laying off staff and downsizing and eliminating some of its national news content. Both the Chieftain and the Post had used attrition to downsize their staffs. But the Post Standard had the added problem of being overstaffed after closing down its evening paper, the Herald Journal. Linhorst said the Post Standard hadn’t laid people off, but offered buyouts.
The ultimate frustration in the audience came from long time newspaper readers who liked going to one source to get the news, as they didn’t have the time to bounce all over the Internet and broadcast to fill in after reading the paper.
Both Managing editors said that their companies didn’t have the resources to compete on delivering the national and international news, but that they still provided the big picture on those stories, while focusing indepth on the local news.
In the end
Beyond losing their jobs and nostalgia, Henson was asked what would happen if newspapers just went away, he responded with the following:
“I think newspapers play not only a vital role, they hold a sacred role in a democratic society.
Knowing how government officials misbehave with us watching, think how they’d act if we didn’t exist.
Without us, how would citizens know which neighborhoods were experiencing crime, which schools were best for their children, whose getting married and divorced and having babies and dying? Take away our editorial powers and who would champion the needs of our communities?
We could all make a much longer list of what we do, but you get the idea.”