So, the daily newspaper is dead. So say so many.
Young people just don’t read, the naysayers claim with strong feelings. Young people are too busy texting on cell phones or surfing the internet, the anecdotes maintain.
Well, I have lived through the death of newspapers for lo these many years — by radio, movies, television and computers. I still read a daily newspaper. I like my glass of juice, my relaxed morning with the newspaper in my hands. Even when I went to work early, I wanted my morning journalistic fix.
I concede that my morning paper isn’t what it used to be. I’ve been all over the country, some were good and some were bad. I’m now back on my first daily, the Kansas City Star. It has careened downhill like Frank Bullitt driving that green Mustang on the streets of San Francisco. Recklessly, the Star management has squeezed the newspaper that can’t print box scores and can’t wrap the catch from the fish monger.
But I read it. Addicted, of course. Frustrated, definitely. Wanting more, assuredly.
Critics contend that people simply aren’t reading all that much. Of course, that means newspapers are under duress. But is it true? A friend noted that the New Orleans Times-Picayune was publishing just three days a week. But I found out on a recent trip to New Orleans that another paper has taken up the slack. The Advocate, in October 2012, began printing and distributing a daily New Orleans edition for both newsstand and home delivery. The Advocate is a seven-day-a-week newspaper in south Louisiana serving Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette.
But the negative stories persist. Jim Fitzpatrick, a former KC Star reporter, writes a blog JimmyCsays and he recently wrote about the Star’s corporate owner, McClatchy, and how it made a spectacular overpayment of $4.5 billion for 32 Knight Ridder newspapers, including the Star, in 2006.
“At the time, that purchase looked like a big gamble,” he said. “Today it looks like the worst newspaper purchase of all time. McClatchy assumed $2 billion in debt and has lurched around with a debt of at least $1 billion ever since.”
At the time of the purchase, McClatchy stock was selling for more than $50 a share. Very soon the value of McClatchy shares began plummeting, and they fell to less than a dollar each.
So, is the demise of the newspaper attributed to dumb moves equating to bad investment or the evolution of a person’s reading habits? McClatchy was making money until it became too big for its britches. Sacramento, Modesto and other “Bee” newspapers were viable, fat and sassy. The chain simply became too aggressive.
Warren Buffet, the multi-faceted entrepreneur, believes newspapers have a future. Why would he think this? Well, he considers newspapers as reigning supreme in the delivery of local news: “If you want to know what’s going on in your town — whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football — there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”
Alas, I have tried to enlighten the editors of the Star but I have failed miserably. So, I have another idea. Of course, I don’t have the business acumen needed or the money to get this done, but I sure know what would make a good newspaper. And I have the place to do just that: Johnson County, Kansas.
My colleagues call this folly. Bah, humbug. Please send money and I will get things rolling.
First, I would hire a company that deals in company organization. Good ones are out there. I would negotiate for an offset press, maybe the old used by the Olathe News.
Then I would search for an editor, advertising manager, business manager and circulation manager. The Star has laid off people with those kinds of backgrounds, plus there are plenty of them available with the newspaper market very, very tight.
Which brings up the point right now. Again, you say no one reads so why would you venture into the moribund enterprise that is a daily newspaper? Well, I disagree with the premise. As the adage goes, build it and they will come. Yeah, yeah, smart phones and computers dominate time for young people. However, I still believe everyone likes to put their hands on what they’re reading. Newspapers forgot what they are best at doing — providing news.
When a wreck ties up a highway with thousands late getting to work or home, that’s news. When a school district alters curriculum, that’s news. A newspaper can manufacture news, like delving into a government entity that may be dealing in fraud, but what’s-happening-now news should be the focus.
A newspaper can deal with many areas that would draw readers to the news columns. Give the people what they want to read, what they need to read.
Okay, you get the idea. Let me continue with the newspaper’s organization.
After putting top management in place, I would have a sit-down to go over what is needed in each area. My background is in the news part but I have knowledge about other departments.
Let’s look at the newsroom.
The editor must be the up-front person, ready to get into the community and sell the newspaper as a place for residents to get their information about neighbors, politicians and businesses. He must oversee the editorial and business departments, letting all know that a newspaper needs to be viable but not a cash cow for the owners. A profitable newspaper dispenses news for all levels.
He would hire department heads, from news to circulation to advertising.
The managing editor would be in charge of all news gathering, from features to sports to business news. He/she or an assistant would meet each day to go over assignments and breaking news.
The assistant managing editor would work with the city editor to make sure assignments would be carried out. A premium would be placed on copy editors.
At first blush, beats would include education, county government, law enforcement and health. These would be monitored early on to see how they are fitting in — emphasizing one or more of them. Each would monitor all phases of their beats. For example, the county government beat writer would check in on what is going on at various city levels; the law enforcement beat writer would check out county and city police. A study would have to be made of what to do on court cases and their adjudication. Does it make sense to be a paper of record. Marriages, divorces and births should be considered.
High school sports would be a priority. The sports editor would also write a column. All staff members would do desk work, including copy editing and lay-out. All would cover prep games, doing desk work before heading out. The Royals and Chiefs would be handled by wire services. The sports editor could pick certain pro games to cover for a column. KU and Kansas State would have wire service coverage but big games could be staffed. A small college roundup would be run each week. High school roundups would run each week, including features, schedules, results and standings. Only varsity level sports would be covered.
The features desk would be fully staffed. They would write about trends in fashion, cooking and home decor. Dinner reviews would be held to a minimum. However, features like best tenderloin or best nightlife could be run on occasion.
Sure, a lot more. But it could be done. The point of all this is that a viable newspaper could be published in Johnson County.