Newspapers, not opinion-papers

I’m always hesitant about adding to the reams of ink and binary code that have been spilled in the desperate cause of trying to predict the future of newspapers.

Yes, people get their breaking news from the television, or the internet, or the radio, because they are faster. Yes, newspapers are struggling to make ends meet because the “rivers of gold” from classified advertising are drying up. Yes, yes, we know.

Even so, here’s a conversation I’ve had a few times lately: I refuse to believe it logically follows that for newspapers to survive, they must fill all their pages with opinion.

Sure, I’m interested in people’s opinions. I want to hear about their first-hand experiences and I want to read their considered, well-informed insights. Fortunately, the opinion pages of the newspapers provide this, as do websites like The Punch and The Drum and the National Times.

The problem is that if all the news reporting gets left to the platforms that can do it fastest, news becomes little more than a race. How many people are dead in the earthquake now? How about now? No really, how many is it now?

Again, I do want to hear the latest update on how many people died in the earthquake and I know a newspaper can’t provide it. That’s okay. Print newspapers are different. They might be a little slower but they’re a reflective kind of medium. They more or less demand our full attention. They don’t distract us with multiple tabs and links to other places and people saying hi on Facebook Chat. It’s hard to read them while driving a car or cooking dinner. Where there are limitations, there are also opportunities.

Newspapers have the opportunity to run longer feature stories explaining not just what, but why. Newspaper reporters have the opportunity to conduct investigations, to persuade reluctant sources to talk, to research deeply, to build relationships with contacts that will later pay dividends – all this takes time and labour and is not cheap and does not guarantee a story for the midday news update. And newspaper editors still have the opportunity to set the agenda for public debate.

Sure, we need a new way to fund this, but let’s remember that this is valuable to readers in a basic, fourth-estate, holding public institutions accountable, debating important social issues kind of way. It involves telling the reader something relevant they didn’t know before – that’s news at a let’s-sit-down-and-define-it type of level.

That’s news. It’s pretty powerful. Let’s make sure it’s in the newspapers.

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