Does the reportedly mixed reaction to the death of a small weekly newspaper on the Lake of the Woods show we have entered “the golden age of ignorance,” as Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins declared?
Perhaps, if newspapers can’t convince communities that they are an essential civic asset.
Collins’ declaration came in a follow-up to MPR reporter John Engler’s report on the May 7 demise of the Warroad Pioneer, one of three weeklies in Roseau County, on Minnesota’s northern border. Engler paraphrased New York Times reporter Richard Fausset: “He said he spent a week in Warroad, talking to locals about the paper closing. He admitted that most folks, outside of the Pioneer staff and their husbands, didn’t seem too broken up about it.”
Fausset disputed that, in an interview with me: “I talked to a lot of people who were very worried the newspaper was going to quit. What MPR reported does not accurately reflect what I found in the town. There are a number of people concerned about what happens next.”
WAYNESBORO — Man, 27 months can go by quickly, with plenty of things changing in the process.
Twenty-seven months ago, I wasn’t a grandfather. This past Mother’s Day weekend, our grandson turned 2.
Twenty-seven months ago, I was still in my rookie year of full-fledged newspaper ownership. Now, I have enough battle scars, bumps and bruises to take on the appearance of a life-long owner.
Twenty-seven months ago, I received the call from MPA Executive Director Layne Bruce that then-current MPA President Don Norman had announced his retirement from the newspaper business. That meant I was being elevated to MPA President roughly 15 months earlier than we had expected. To say it’s been an interesting 27 months would be a gross understatement.
I once encountered a car dealer who took advertising puffery to new levels. They publicized themselves as being number one in every conceivable category. Their general advertising theme was, “We’re number one.” Their new car slogan was, “We’re number one in new cars.” Their used car slogan was, “We’re number one in used cars.” Their service department’s slogan was, “We’re number one in service.” And of course, their logo featured their name inside a number one.
That approach must have simplified their advertising strategy meetings: “Let’s just tell everybody we’re number one in everything.”
“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.