It’s National Newspapers Week, an annual event that we in the news industry hope strikes a chord with the public.
It’s fashionable to predict the end of newspapers. Apparently, we news professionals are being replaced by public relations people and social media. Actually, if that were true, none of you would be reading this opinion column right now.
Newspapers Canada, a professional association of newspapers across the country, recently conducted a poll seeking to identify where people get their most trusted news from. About 88 per cent of Canadians get news from newspapers.
Now, the term”newspapers” may not describe the current state of our industry. While the demand for news has never decreased, and in my opinion has only increased, I think what those 88 per cent of people are trying to say is they want to read accurate and relevant news. Whether they get that from a newspaper delivered to their door, a website available on their laptop or tablet, or social media links that pop up on their cell phone, it’s all news content that they’re interested in.
One of the mottoes of National Newspapers Week is “Newspapers Matter,” and in my opinion, they do. Especially in the local market, newspapers definitely matter.
A good example of how important a local newspaper is would be events that are promoted exclusively through Facebook. Regardless of what the reach may be, Facebook appeals to a certain demographic, obviously someone who has a computer or mobile device and an interest in Facebook. But will Facebook send out a photographer to cover your event? In this day and age, even large city media outlets don’t really show a lot of interest in smaller, rural areas. From my experience, large urban media, such as television stations, will only cover tragedies or disasters in a smaller area, which gives the impression that’s all that happens in a place like Wetaskiwin, for example.
Coupled with that is the fact that if a smaller community is only getting city media attention for its problems, who’s going to tell the good stories, the positive stories? Websites like entrepreneur.com have noticed that while social media giant Facebook has actually lost viewership over recent years, it’s profitability has increased over 40 per cent. Is social media focusing more on money and less on connecting people?
The amount of negativity in social media content is astounding. Just type “social media toxicity” into your search engine and see the results.
A local newspaper thrives on the community’s connections. A good newspaper will include coverage of locally elected bodies such as town councils. Town councils can have budgets ranging from a few million dollars to tens of millions of dollars. From my experience, local newspapers take pride in covering council meetings, and if no local newspaper survives, who’s going to tell the public what’s happening at those meetings?
I feel there’s one major area of local newspapers that cannot be replaced, and that’s what’s called the “journalism of opinion.” A good newspaper should have a healthy opinion section that professional journalists can offer their take on local happenings or give a local perspective on provincial, national or international events. If local newspapers disappear, there will be no local journalism of opinion.
For these reasons and many more, this editor feels newspapers matter.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.