I’ve been trying my darnedest to avoid writing about this subject, because I know someone out there is going to say “You’re just a self-serving jerk.” So be it.
In much the same vein as the advent of radio and television, many newspaper haters are predicting the end of the medium, predominately because of social media like Facebook and Instagram and internet news sites.
I disagree that newspapers are irrelevant. To be more specific, I disagree that news is irrelevant. In my opinion, the advent of social media and internet news sites has, if anything, increased the demand for news content of all kinds: hard news, beat reporting, features, sports, entertainment, opinion and more.
Throughout my 26 year career, I’ve learned what makes a community newspaper relevant: accurate reporting that’s of interest to your local readers. Community newspapers prospered in the past because of local content and that’s still what’s going to carry us through the Facebook era.
Over the last two and a half decades, I’ve generally worked in communities that were in the shadow of large cities and what I experienced prepared me for social media competition. Without fail, the large city media always claim to be regional, yet rarely leave their city limits. From what I’ve observed firsthand, city media only leave their corporate limits when something heinous occurs in a smaller area. Murder, rape, child deaths, teen suicide, racist crimes and much more are the lures that draw the city media out. The result is that rural communities are depicted as places where these types of things occur, and not much else.
Working for 26 years in rural communities for the most part, I can tell you that’s not true. Some of the finest people I’ve ever met lived, worked and volunteered in rural communities.
Community newspapers provide that objective platform which shines a light on both the good and bad that exist here, like everywhere else.
Another point I make when someone touts the future of newspapers versus social media is coverage of local events and issues. I know I spend a lot of time covering council meetings, chamber of commerce luncheons and entertainment events and I don’t see anyone from Facebook there. I was at two major events in Wetaskiwin this past weekend, and I spent some time asking around if any reporter from Twitter or Instagram was there. If they were, I couldn’t find them.
Then there’s quality. Community newspapers, for the most part, employ journalists who spent years in college and in the field learning their trade. They know how to write news, sports, features and opinion to a high level of quality, and I’ll tell you the stuff I see on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram isn’t near that level.
Lastly, your community newspaper engages with you. Any of our local readers knows where to find me if they have something important to say. Interestingly enough, Facebook, for example, does not even allow the public to contact them. Community newspaper staff live and work in the same community as you.
Also, keep in mind important moral questions that surround how social media functions… for example, the way in which police proved the Russian government manipulated Facebook to affect the last U.S. presidential election. Facebook didn’t even know what was going on until the cops told them. It concerns me because I use Facebook too, as does The Pipestone Flyer. People pay a lot of money to advertise on there but I wonder whose message I’m reading…
Those of you who feel newspapers (or news in general) are doomed, just look at the websites and pages you visit through social media and the internet. What’s on there? I would predict it’s news content you’re looking for.
I have a feeling that not only the importance of community news but of quality, objective news in the first place will ensure newspapers survive social media and the internet.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.