It’s National Newspaper Week and never has the role of a newspaper been under so much scrutiny as it has in the era of the Trump presidency, digitization of the news, and even greater concentration of media ownership.
The values, the core assumptions and the practical workings of the newspaper have come under attack from political doctrine, technological innovation and market forces. They’ve made it interesting times, to say the least.
During National Newspaper Week, Oct. 1-7, newspapers are being encouraged to speak up about the strengths and value of newspapers but blowing our own horn is not something we’re particularly comfortable with. It’s not that there’s a shortage of ego in the journalistic profession, there isn’t, but it’s just that as a whole, journalists like to be in the background.
Despite popular misconceptions and clichés to the contrary, journalists don’t want to be the story. We want to tell the story.
However, we do have a story to tell and as much as we’re uncomfortable talking about ourselves, allow us this one chance. Because there are a lot of misconceptions about newspapers.
This is an opportunity to tout the positive, however. There are two big strengths of the newspaper – and this paper, in particular – that I want to highlight.
First is the space we allocate to telling the stories of local organizations and individuals who do something for the community.
The second is the news and information we bring to the readers about what goes on in the community, particularly about the agencies that your tax dollars pay to work on your behalf.
First of all, let’s look at our wonderful community organizations. Twice each week, this publication brings you a kaleidoscope of organizations and individuals who are doing great works – from raising money for important medical equipment for the hospital, to friends and family members raising money for people in sudden and emergent need. We also dedicate pages of space to tell the stories of local artists, athletes, teachers, businesses and more.
Most of our stories fall into this category.
Our staff members write them or we give space to submissions from the groups or individuals themselves. It’s not wrong to look at it as a partnership between the paper and those in the community doing, as I called it before, great works.
Nobody does this more than we do.
That last sentence came uncomfortably close to bragging for my liking but it has to be said.
In addition to telling the stories of the wonderful people helping each other in our community, we also dedicate page after page to young people accomplishing great things – whether they be young athletes simply scoring a goal at the Rod Brind’Amour Arena or a pianist earning a prestigious scholarship. And the same applies to adults in our community. When achievements great and small are accomplished, who’s the first person everyone is urged to tell – after grandma and grandpa, of course?
The local newspaper.
Now, the second area I want to focus on is the news and information we bring to you about agencies using your tax dollars to bring you services. On Oct. 20, you will be deciding who will spend your municipal tax dollars. Once you’ve done your democratic duty and cast your vote, that’s probably the last active involvement you’ll have in the running of our city.
Given how much money they’re taking out of your pocket and given how much of the quality of your life is impacted by city, school district and regional district services, shouldn’t you be keeping an eye on what they do with your money?
Luckily, you don’t have to go to every city council meeting, school board meeting or regional district board meeting because … we’ll be there on your behalf. And we’ll come back to tell you what your elected officials did. Because somebody needs to keep an eye on them, not because they are bad people or incompetent but because they make choices that you may or may not agree with, how are you going to know what those choices are if you don’t go to all the meetings?
Every council meeting, every school board meeting, every regional district meeting has a Campbell River Mirror reporter attending and bringing back stories about what your elected officials did with your money.
How else would you know about the workings of your local government?
We also endeavour to report to you about other public agencies funded with the contents of your bank account. Where do you find out about the activities of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the RCMP, the provincial Conservation Officer Service, the Department of Highways and Transportation, various social services departments? The pages of this newspaper.
We don’t get everything they do because believe it or not, some agencies don’t feel the need to tell the public about what they do. That means we have to go find it. Could we do it better or more? Probably, but be aware that often these agencies are actively discouraging notification about what they’re up to. We’re a small paper up against large bureaucracies.
But, again, where else are you going to get this information, if not from your local newspaper?
Now, at this point I should change direction slightly and address an issue that has a big impact on the availability of information. And that’s the digitization of the newspaper industry.
Technological change is being brought about by our audience. More and more news consumers want their information brought to them in a digital format, usually in the form of a mobile or desktop website (usually both). That has forced significant changes on how the “local paper” does its business.
The good thing is we can now be immediate with our coverage. But what it has brought about is the need for continual flow of consumable information or our audience will go somewhere else. That means our website and its support system –social media – have to have a constant flow of local, national and international stories to keep it fresh.
But that leads to a big misperception brought about by the digital age, and that is the feeling that all we ever run is non-local stories. People on our social media sites feel there’s too much non-local news flowing their way. But the reality is, that’s in addition to the same old local news we’ve ever had. Plus the fact remains that your print edition is still all local. And the print edition is still a big part of our business.
Because another point to keep in mind is that a newspaper is a business and we have to stay afloat. David Black has invested millions in a company that provides you with local news. Many other newspapers are no longer around to do that and we don’t want to end up the same way.
Friday: Opinion, bias, typos and other issues.