Friday, March 09, 2007

Quality of Weekly Newspapers Better Than Some Suspect

In the Feb. 27, 2007 issue of the Maneater, an independent student newspaper on the University of Missouri - Columbia campus, columnist (and pre-journalism student) Dan Friesen took a swipe at agriculture (students and families), rural living and weekly or rural newspapers.

The result was a firestorm of criticism from campus. Friesen heard the complaints loud and clear. He even issued an apology saying he intended the column, entitled “I can service a horse” as satire.

The newspaper itself backed away from supporting Friesen by printing an editorial note saying, “The opinions of Dan Friesen or any other columnist, guest columnist or letter to the editor solely reflect the opinion of their respective authors.”

Friesen’s views on agriculture and farm families have been dealt with fully this past week. However, one comment he made in the middle of the column, a comment about weekly or rural newspapers, seems to have been passed over by many. This is the one that caught my eye:

Can you farmers dig through all the daily events and weave a coherent yarn
explaining why any of it matters? No way. I’ve read the papers that come out
of the country. They have headlines like “O’Flannigan Cow Farts.” Nice try.
Tell you what: You stick to the … (farming), we’ll stick to the important
work of print.

I enjoyed my work at a weekly newspaper. I produced some serious journalism during that time and I met other weekly newspapers editors in Missouri who were considered to be at the very top of the profession.

During those six years at a weekly newspaper I heard plenty of comments from peers who didn’t think weekly newspaper work was “real” journalism. The comments originated from a stereotype, just like Friesen’s suggested “country” headline. The irony is that the only place I have read about cow gas over the last several years has been in national magazines and
newspapers that have written about studies on the impact of “cow methane” on global warming.

Here are a few examples:

ABC News did, “Global Warming Culprits: Cars and ... Cows.”

Terra Daily: “Cow Gas Study Not Just A Lot Of Hot Air “Cow gas study not just a lot of hot air

You get the idea. Big city journalism does not always mean better journalism. In fact, good weekly newspapers that practice quality community journalism are having business great success and are about the only newspapers in the nation seeing circulation increases.

I’ve detailed some of that success of weekly newspapers in this blog before. Journalism needs more of the community/local reporting that takes place at weekly and rural newspapers.

But one other fact also deserves a special note. Weekly newspaper editors do garner national journalism honors. The Associated Press and other newspaper organizations recognize their work and several have actually won the Pulitzer Prize. John Hatcher has a great piece, “Small papers, big stories: a comparison of community newspapers that have won the Pulitzer Prize” in the Spring 2005 issue of the Grassroots Editor, the quarterly journal published by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors ( Perhaps this
journal article should be required reading for journalism students.

I hope the writer of the Maneater column has learned a lesson or two. I know when I was young, and a college newspaper editor, I made some foolish decisions too. The bad thing about putting your opinions in print is that year’s later, they can come back to haunt you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thankks for the heads up on what "journalism" has sunk to at MU. I suspect Walter Williams wouldn't recognize the profession as it's practiced today. What a shame. The Maneater has produced quality and it has produced very talented and clever journalists, but not everyone who writes for the paper should. It appears that Freisen might want to re-examin his career choice.

MU Class of '75

11:24 PM, March 09, 2007  

Post a Comment

Let us know how you have been helped by this article or what you have learned from this story.

<< Home