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Newspapers navigating the path to diversity

By Carol McIntire

This week, newspapers across the country are highlighting the importance of transparency in government.

Citizens have access to many public records through the pages of the newspaper: police reports, court records and yes, even real estate transfers which have become very popular in Carroll County in recent months.

Citizens know what went on at various public meetings because a reporter sat in on a meeting, wrote a story and it was published in the newspaper. As an example, the community learned Carroll County Commissioners were planning to transfer the land formerly known as the County Home Farm, because a reporter sat in on a commissioners meeting and filed a report.

Imagine what it would be like if there were no news reporters who wrote hard news stories to keep the public informed. Where would we be?

Today the evolution of news and how we obtain it has become a threat to the printed versions of both large daily and small community newspapers. Across the country, newspapers have been forced to make cuts to staff, production and programs. Newspaper page counts are down. It’s no secret that newspapers have closed and printing plants have shut down. Many people have lost their jobs or seen significant cuts in their hours and/or paychecks.

While newspaper reporters of the old days could be considered to be creatures of habit, we are doing our best to diversify, to provide news in different formats; in general to change our methods to meet the demands of the public.

Reporters who are used to carrying a notebook, camera and tape recorder now find themselves armed with a video camera, cell phone with a camera, ipad, notebook or laptop computer, ready to produce video for the internet, updates for facebook and be the first to have breaking news up on a website because the newspaper “doesn’t print until next week.”

We find ourselves jumping through hoops trying to figure out how to drive readers to Websites without losing subscribers of the print edition that “keeps the doors open”.

With every newspaper that is hit by the evolving stream of media and forced to close its doors or downsize staff, it is one less watchdog for the public. Newspapers, on a daily basis, fight for public records and open meetings.

Without newspapers, where would the citizens’ right to public records or open meetings be? That’s a good question to ask this week, Sunshine Week.

Certainly, there are plenty of would-be journalists out there, bloggers and others who attempt to produce what they call “news”, but are they the ones who are out there fighting for access to records and meetings?

It’s hard to imagine a world without a local daily or weekly newspaper for people to pick up and read (or even complain about) over breakfast or lunch.

Where do we go next? No one really knows.

As an industry we are trying to navigate the path to diversify the newsprint edition and provide news in the formats readers ask for. As that process evolves, we plan to do what The Free Press Standard has done for over 175 years: to provide the most complete coverage of community events and be a watchdog for the people in government affairs. 


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