Staff column: Huffington's impact on news content
When I recently made the decision to trade my place behind a local microphone for a place in the local print newsroom I was asked a very serious and somber question, "Are you afraid of the future for newspapers?" A fair question given the present attitude toward print media but one that made my blood boil a little to tell you the truth.
Because I know something, you see.
While many are ready to drive a nail into the coffin of news print companies and bustling newsrooms, my recent work experience back at the Sun Advocate along with the acquisition of the Huffington Post by America Online have me dropping a wry and knowing smile concerning a future that is bright and full of possibility for those in the newsroom.
When the editor-in-chief of the newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, Arianna Huffington, recently interviewed for Bill Maher on Politically Incorrect concerning the acquisition of her news empire by AOL, increased local media coverage was at the dead center of the conversation. Yes, hyper-local news coverage is rearing its head as the king of the digital media transition.
Huffington, the one-woman media empire who started Huffington Post from scratch half a decade ago, could have focused her comments on the multi-million dollar pay day she just received courtesy of AOL. She could have talked about the major ramifications the acquisition will certainly have on Wall Street or even discussed the international coverage that will certainly be increased by AOL's sheer mass, but alas it was local reporters and their beat that had Huffington excited. Indeed, it's seems the inner workings of communities just like Utah's Castle Country are at the top of the list for media moguls in 2011.
"(This acquisition) makes it possible for us to accelerate all of things have been planning to do," explained Huffington. "The extension of our local reach is the most exciting part of this deal."
According to Huffington, the stock of local news gathering and reporting is skyrocketing while many national media giants seem to have lost their credibility all together.
After all Fox News is about as "Fair and Balanced" as the jury at the Salem witch trials.
Getting back to the point, what seems to be working for the media right now is versatile coverage by local reporters.
In the last month at the Sun Advocate I have sold ad content, written adver-torial, editorial and news pieces, recorded pod-cast material, took photographs, worked toward increasing circulation and helped put into motion our own local media company transformation. Most at the office are doing the same thing, finding themselves capable of wearing whatever hat is needed at the time.
This is the future for newspapers. While new products like "The Daily," (a news site composed specifically for tablets,) promote themselves as a revolutionary, when at heart they are simply a newspaper produced for a purely digital medium. The lasting value of a newspapers, especially in local communities, lies not in the medium by which the content is delivered, but rather in the responsibility undertaken by writers and composers.
A responsibility that may be coming the consumer's way in print, as well as online, for quite awhile.
According to a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, the proportion of reading time for those who subscribe to the one of the top five American newspapers comes out 12 percent online / 88 percent print. The imbalance is apparently even greater if the person reads more than one of the top five.
While this may seem odd given today's ultra digital trend, the disproportion reportedly comes from the fact that not everyone gets their media they way those within the media assume. Not everyone uses an RSS feed. Despite popular belief, not everyone is on Twitter. Yes, 15 years into the age of online newspapers, things are still disproportionately stacked toward print. And while this is heartwarming to those who love the smell of the printed page it would be naive and fatal to resist the coming change. Because "the times they are a changin."
If the digital age has accomplished one thing for community media outlets, it's this: even the smallest shop has the ability to be available 24/7, 365 and in vibrant color and sound at the touch of a button or the turn of a page. Your choice.
In the opinion of this local reporter it is not the choice of medium that seems to sway local news consumers, it is the want for interesting, familiar and dependable content available when and how they want it.
The Sun Advocate has been covering local news in one incarnation or another for the past 120 years and because the organization is willing to change with its audience, the organization is here to stay. It is easy to see that I have a fondness for our local rag and that fondness comes from a belief that newsrooms with editors and reporters, charged with delivering the TRUTH to their readers is at the heart of any newspaper. The story, not the medium, is the heart of the matter and it's the heart that matters more.