“Take another shot of courage. Wonder why the right words never come. You just get numb.”—Don Henley
By Ray Mosby
ROLLING FORK— Twenty-five years.
A quarter of a century. A third of the average lifetime. That qualifies as a milestone, I think.
At very least, that’s a large enough sample to be representative. That’s enough time to accumulate an awful lot of data and that is enough time to adequately test it.
So I think it perhaps time for some evaluation.
It has been 25 years since I gathered up what then constituted my little family and moved to a place I’d never really been, where I knew not one soul to try to do something that I was not at all sure would even work.
Small, rural newspapers can win open-records battles with state agencies and beat larger news outlets at covering big stories in their communities, says a journalist who spent most of his career at a metropolitan daily but has returned to the business of publishing a rural weekly.
Les Zaitz, publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon, made those and other points as he spoke to the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors in Portland, Oregon, on July 12.
Between his ISWNE presentations, Zaitz accepted the 2018 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
Zaitz talked about how the Enterprise pursued the story of a former state hospital patient’s involvement in two murders and an assault in Malheur County shortly after his release. The newspaper discovered that the defendant had been released after convincing state officials he had faked mental illness for 20 years to avoid prison, and after mental-health experts warned he was a danger.
The last couple of years have been an unending barrage against the freedom of the press and the practitioners of this noble trade.
From being called “liars,” “fake,” and “sick” by irate politicians to enduring capricious and punitive tariffs that are an existential threat to newspapers, the landscape for journalists today may be as inhospitable as it has ever been in the 242-year history of this great union of ours.
All this while the public at large seems unable to break free of the social media echo chamber. We retreat there to endlessly bicker with those who don’t agree, or to bolster the confidence of our own positions by seeking solace from those who do.
We’ve devolved into a nation of people who simply don’t want to hear it.
The biggest problem publishing newspapers today is public perception. Every newspaper, from the largest metro to the smallest family-owned community weekly, is judged by the actions of all the others.
If a large chain decides to reduce the number of day they publish or the size of their news room both broadcast and social media report it as a sure sign “print is dead.”
But print isn’t dead. Newspapers are simply facing the same challenges impacting most traditional retailers in this time of increased on-line marketing. Both newspaper and shopper publishers are often told they are the buggy-whip manufacturers of the modern age. But those who say such don’t consider that, although the buggy-whip business is long gone, the importance, status and value of a fine horse remains.
The 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Orlando was packed with information that could help you take your reporting to the next level.
One of the most informative sessions was called “Public Records Track: 50 Records to Request Now.” Described as a “quick-paced, lightening round-style session,” it was co-led by Todd Wallack, an investigative and data reporter for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. According to his IRE bio, Wallack has been part of teams among the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize four times, including a series exploring Boston’s reputation for racism.
Kelly Hinchcliffe, a reporter at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, also led the session. Hinchcliffe focuses on education reporting using public records and data, according to her IRE bio. She writes a public records column for Poynter, and you can find her on Twitter @RecordsGeek.
Wallack and Hinchcliffe offered the following ideas for public records requests.
Mississippi’s old-line newspaper publishers most definitely would be distraught of today’s media world as pointed out in Mac Gordon’s recent guest column (Sunday, June 17) in the Clarion Ledger. They would be further distraught about proposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint that may be disastrous for newspapers across Mississippi — especially the local community ones located in small towns across the state. The ones your friends and neighbors edit and publish. The ones many communities have depended on for generations and will be especially hit hard. Frankly, some newspapers could fold! Others will be forced into further cutbacks.
For sake of clarity this tariff is not as a result of the President’s recently imposed Canadian aluminum and steel tariffs but instead the result of a complaint filed by a New York hedge fund-owned newsprint mill in Washington state last year. And while Trump may have not have initiated this tariff, any effort by his administration to intercede is highly unlikely.
Newspaper publishers and owners across the country are wondering what moves they can make to remain financially viable if the preliminary newsprint tariffs become permanent.
Do we look at making deeper cuts in expenses, which unfortunately we’ve become pretty adept at doing for the last 15 years, or do we look at ways to increase revenue, and that’s something that has been problematic. Ultimately, I believe it has to be a combination of both.
Every newspaper is unique, but what is common is the need to mitigate any further damage to our already wounded brand. I’ve always contended that even with the changes that we’ve endured, our brand is still viable, so caution should be taken when it comes to implementing any of these changes because some of the options could potentially be harmful. The key is to cause the least amount of disruption to your brand.