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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Who let the dogs out?

The one loss that would be felt the most if newspapers went away:

I understand that there are hyper-local blogs run by gadflies who can cover some of this stuff. But the institutional support of a newspaper, while not technically necessary for local coverage to thrive, is nevertheless very important. A financially healthy newspaper has some institutional memory, so that when the lone hyper-local blogger goes on vacation, or moves to a new neighborhood, or gets paid off by the local developer, someone is there to continue important coverage.

A healthy newspaper has an attorney on retainer so that when a powerful local threatens a frivolous liable suit if a controversial story runs, the story gets run -- I've known local news bloggers who uniformly didn't publish such stories when confronted, though they were in the right, because who wants to get sued over their blogging hobby?

A healthy newspaper bundles content that people want to read, like the score of last night's Lakers game, with content that few want to read -- the complicated story about the conflict of interest the city attorney has as he negotiates the retirement compensation of the fire union members, for example -- but that is useful to have in the newspaper because it forces elected officials to be more accountable.

Finally, no matter how dedicated a reporter you are, it isn't fun to sift through a 400 page planning commission agenda or search through an archive of property deeds 50 miles away at the county seat. People do these mundane tasks for pay, not as a hobby. One or two local blogs might attract enough advertising to support a half-time reporter, but none can support anything approaching the staff of a healthy newspaper.

As newspapers continue to lose money and layoff employees, the loss of local government watchdogs is what concerns me.

Perhaps in time, bloggers will organize. One will do the school board and another the planning commission and somebody else the county council and so on. Reading all the blogs would be the same as reading the newspaper. Until then, though, nobody can really duplicate what the newspaper does in its local-government-watchdog role. Nobody else has the dedicated stafff, the institutional memory and the experience in news bundling.

That doesn't mean newspapers do as good a job as they could or should in reporting on local government. We report too much routine stuff and don't do enough digging. That's where dedicated bloggers with the time and interest can start to fill in the gaps.

Posted in: All about me


Harl Delos
Tue, 05/27/2008 - 4:23pm

Nobody else has the dedicated staff, the institutional memory and the experience in news bundling.

Nice argument, Leo, but people don't read newspapers for the news. They get their news fresh, in color and motion, at 11 PM every night.

What they buy a newspaper for is the advertising. If you look at the circulation figures for a newspaper, you can easily tell what day the grocery ads appear - that's the day when daily circulation peaks. Many jobs first appear in the Sunday want ads, and so do many ad inserts, making the Sunday newspaper the biggest seller of all.

What's the most important news in the newspaper? Local high school sports, because people attach so much importance to it, and TV news doesn't have the time to cover 30 different Friday night football games well. But Saturday usually has the lowest circulation numbers of all week.

The only reason there's any news in the newspaper at all is because post office regulations require a newspaper to be no more than 75% advertising to mail at second class rates. Luckily, the post office allows newspapers to count recipes, cartoon strips, sudoku puzzles and stories about the new hemline length to count towards the other 25%, because there aren't many newspapers that are even 10% hard news.

Kevin Knuth
Wed, 05/28/2008 - 7:28am

Harl, I will disagree.

Newspapers provide deeper coverage than you will ever get on the TV news.

I also agree with Leo- more digging needs to be done!

I remember about 7 years ago I had uncovered an issue regarding the County Commissioners. I brought this to the attention of a local TV reporter (who is no longer here) and he said to me, "I cannot do this story, or the commissioners won't give me any stories in the future".

disappointing, to say the least.