June 2017 Editorial Winner

Looking at newspapers
Brian Blansett, Tri-County Herald

Last weekend was the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention, which was a good occasion for the Herald staff to bump elbows with other journalists from around the state.
It also provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on the state of journalism and newspapers in this age of Facebook and smart phones.
Turns out, journalism and community newspapers are doing just fine, by and large. Larger papers and dailies owned by corporations, maybe not so much.
Looking at the displays of newspapers from around the state, it was easy to see that good journalism is not only alive, but thriving.
There were papers exposing records that elected officials wanted to keep hidden, papers celebrating the accomplishments of people in their communities, papers writing community service stories and papers providing lots of scrutiny of the state Legislature as it lurched toward a budget.
It was a total disconnect from what one sees on Facebook and on the cable news talk shows, where allegations of fake news and “the media” trying to mind-control the public fly around like bats at sunset.
It often seems that claims about “the media” exist because it’s handy to have a vague, shadowy villain to blame for anything you don’t like.
We - newspaper people - tend to think of “the media” as people who produce what you see on broadcast and cable television and “the press” as people who produce what you read on newsprint.
That may be a distinction that’s too fine for some people, but it’s important because those of us who put out community newspapers have made personal investments in our communities.
We go to football games and livestock shows and Chamber meetings because those are important events in the lives of our communities and our readers. And they’re important to us, too.
At the Herald, we’ve seen steady growth in our subscribers and advertisers the last two years and we believe it’s because we’ve gone back to the roots of community journalism, reporting and photographing things that are important locally, where we live.
Sadly, though, not all is roses in the newspaper world.
Many newspapers are struggling, and the pattern seems to be that they are daily newspapers owned by corporations with a focus only on the bottom line with no awareness of what a good newspaper can mean to a community.
When quarterly profits don’t meet the board of directors’ expectations, the first reaction is to cut expenses, usually in the newsroom.
Fewer reporters means less news and fewer reasons to read the newspaper, which means fewer subscribers, which means advertisers have less interest in buying ads, which means profits suffer, which means more expense cuts.
It becomes a cycle that ends with the quality of the newspaper swirling down the toilet.
Those same companies also seem to believe that the Internet is made of pixie dust that can turn mediocre journalism into money.
Granted, we’ll all be digital some day in the future, but it’s hard to see the business sense in giving away the only thing you have to sell, which is what they’re doing by putting their content on web sites for free access.
If you can get a cheeseburger for free or for $5, most people will take the free one every time. News is the same way.
All of this is unfortunate because people tend to paint every newspaper with the same brush and think that all of us are headed down the pipes.
Such is not the case, obviously.
We hope that some of those corporations will tire of their declining profits and begin to divest themselves of their newspapers, selling them to local owners willing to invest their money, their time and their energies in their local communities.
Years ago, someone said you can’t have a good community without a good bank, good churches, a good newspaper and a good school system.
We think it’s still true today.

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