Monday, May 26, 2008

Make It Matter...Please

We teach our Student Journalistas to Search for the News. In high school, that means what's important, but also what's interesting. Without a compelling reason to look at the student newspaper--a story featuring events, people, photos, criticism about folks who are close to them--the Student Body at Our Humble High School won't have a good enough reason to look at that final product. As we learned So Many Moons Ago, the story has to have legs, but it also has to have wings.

We've grown a tad bit reflective in our dotage, because the Professional Press seems to be turning into something we've tried to avoid for our own personal journalistas covering OHHS. We pick up our daily paper and see lots and lots of who-ha about Who's on First & What's On Second, but increasingly fewer & fewer stories that have any relation to what we're doing & what we care about.

For a long time newspapers have suffered from what we call USA Today Syndrome. You know those shorty-short paragraphs written for Imbeciles On the Go & that Inane (But Mighty Colorful!) Weather Map? The Ink-Stained Wretches remaining in the professional press corps seem to think that Bells & Whistles will help them retain daily readership. So why does Your Humble Scribe increasingly feel like turning to the Blogosphere & the likes of mybellringers, tara r., cupcake & teachergirl for News & Entertainment?

If we need to know about the 3-alarm fire downtown, or the latest news in the Hills & BO (gotta love those initials!) Presidential Shrew-Off, we can turn on the telly. If we want to know how to whip up the Latest Food Channel Concoction or what to do about the deer that our eating our Beloved Day Lilies, the Internet is just a tap or 2 away.

We need--we want, we yearn--for our local newspaper to be a Font of Everything Else. To give us the news behind the news, as it were. Why did the local team win & why did the local mayor lose? We tell Our Cherubs to Answer the Question "Why?". Their readership wants to find out everything else in a more convenient manner.

Yes, we can blame the 24-hour News Cycle for the demise of the Written Word in dailies around the world. We can blame the iPod, the Internet, the Urge to Be On, 24/7. Or, we can take a look at our local newspapers & ask them Why We Care about the local beach town transitioning from Singles to Families (editors seem to think Lifestyles Coverage will save them from themselves) & Why that story was on Page One when the Faces of the Fallen in Iraq sits languishing on Pages 8 & 9--especially on Memorial Day Morning.

Our local rag, The Washington Post, just took more than 100 buyouts from seasoned journalistas, the 3rd case of such downsizing in 5 years. The story in today's paper says they're looking for younger--and less expensive--voices to man their coverage. Post Media Critic Howard Kurtz recounts a recent convo he had with a "smug graduate student" at Harvard. "I get everything I need from YouTube. What are you going to do about it?" the Harvard Smartass asked the Seasoned Scribe.

This Seasoned Scribe knows what The Post--and other papers around the country that are hemorraging Big Bucks and blame the Blogosphere, et al--needs to do to counteract their financial conundrum. Showcase stories that are close to your readers, that will capture their interest, that will affect them, either literally, emotionally, or both. Whether it's the local Homecoming Queen or the crisis in Myanmar, it's gotta matter; it has to have wings. That's what an Ink-Stained Wretch told us back in Big D When the World Was Very Young and we still worked in the Biz. Without those wings, your readers will Fly the Proverbial Coop.


cupcake said...


The news about the Post breaks my heart. That's my girlhood newspaper! I still read it online every chance I get, but if they're tilting toward the young and cheap, I might have to wander elsewhere.

You're absolutely correct: it all comes down to why we should care. It also comes down to: tell me something I don't already know. I don't read the paper to find out who won the game; I read newspapers to find out the plays that made the difference, what the coaches and players had to say, and what to expect in the future.

You don't get that from YouTube, Harvard diploma or not.

Melissa B. said...

Cupcake: A DC child? Check out Page One of today's Post. There's a story about how some are trying to turn the party scene at Dewey Beach into a family scene. And they have the nerve to run Howard Kurtz's story about Post buyouts in the same edition (Style, Page 1). I worked there in the '80s--not the same newsroom anymore, I'd say.

Tara R. said...

I work for a media company that owns newspapers, television stations, and interactive Internet properties across the country. The big push now is reverse publishing... everything on the 'Net first, then to print. Short articles as the news is breaking and more detailed pieces later in the hard copy. It's been an interesting transition. Oddly enough we are also downsizing staff and losing ad revenue. Not sure if this plan is working.

Melissa B. said...

tara r.--sometimes I just wish we could all settle down and go back to the old dayz of Walter Cronkite at 7 p.m. & a chance to read the morning paper over a cup of coffee before going to work. But then I wouldn't have the Blogosphere, & I've grown quite attached to my cyber life!

Sean Hogan said...

I couldn't agree more. I'm going to miss opening up the paper and seeing Tony Kornheiser there, as he took the buyout.


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