Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is your newspaper a community institution?

If your newspaper had to close would the community still miss it one month from now? If not, then what can you do to make your newspaper a community institution?

Gary Sosniecki hits another one out of the park with a speech he gave to the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. This is a part of what Gary had to say:
Helen and I have had the privilege of living in five small towns since we began buying and selling weekly newspapers 26 years ago, which has given us some perspective on community institutions and the roles they play in keeping their communities strong.

And we worry about what we see. Schools are consolidating. Banks are changing names faster than you can use up the checks from the last name. Smalltown industries — once so dominant in a community that they often were referred to simply as “the plant” — shrivel or disappear entirely as jobs flow overseas. Smalltown hospitals, if they survive at all, are being swallowed up by big-city medical centers.

And newspapers?

We see newspapers right and left that have sacrificed their right to be called a community institution through mediocre-to-poor news coverage, apathetic-to-arrogant customer service and a lack of leadership both in community activities and on the editorial page. They may be making money, they may be successful businesses, but they’re no longer a community institution. They no longer have the level of respect they once had in the community, and they risk becoming irrelevant.

It would be easy to lay all the blame with chain ownership and the high profit margins many chains require. And it is true that many chain-owned newspapers — but not all — have forfeited their standing as community institutions.

But independently owned newspapers can fall victim to the same fate if they take their readers, their advertisers and their community for granted. Once your newspaper has lost its standing as a community institution, it is hard to get it back.

I remember the newspaper I worked at nearly 20 years ago. We put in long hours, wrote hard news and took strong positions in editorials (even when it created heart burn) in order to established ourselves as a solid community institution. It took several years but now, after about 8 different owners and 8 or 9 different editors, I think the newspaper is viewed very differently. The new owner is working hard to improve thinks but she has a tough job ahead.

So what about your newspaper? Is it a community institution? Can you give an example of how you know? What are some things that can be done to make a newspaper important to the community?


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