By Steve Hansen
Former QCS Managing Editor
Last week, I wrote about an exchange in views on the future of newspapers that I had with M.E. Sprengelmeyer, owner, editor and publisher of the Communicator in Santa Rosa.
I have since held a longer conversation with Sprengelmeyer, and I think his reasons for keeping newspapers on paper are worth repeating.
The paper product, he said, becomes a part of the community it serves.
Its circulation is limited to its service area, which makes it a community product. As such, the community acquires a sense of ownership of the product. The newspaper becomes quite valuable to the community as well as to its owners.
Put that product exclusively online and it belongs to the universe, Sprengelmeyer said. It becomes lost in the vast oceans of words and images that pass for news online.
That bodes ill for readers, as well as for the people who make the product, Sprengelmeyer said.
Community news is suddenly competing for readers with every other e-zine, blog and website in the Internet universe.
For local readers, the product loses its local feel and the “on-the-record-ness” of news on paper.
For news staff, the specialties of reporting, editing, photography, and production lose much of their value. The competition for the online versions of these jobs is beyond murderous. It’s too easy to put anything, good or bad, online, and many wannabes work for peanuts or “exposure.”
Sprengelmeyer tells me that some highly regarded online news operations do not pay writers at all. Professionally written materials on these sites come from public relations and political staffers who are paid to advocate for one side. So much for objective reporting.
With increasing reluctance, however, I maintain that electronic media may replace the paper product. The newspaper business at present is not doing well.
Any new business model for newspapers, however, must include adherence to journalistic standards like objectivity, accuracy, fairness and full coverage. Without a professional standard by which to measure accuracy and fairness, we lose facts to the fog of propaganda. Next to go: freedom of speech.
How do we keep up standards as we change how we do business?
If I had the answer, I’d be the next Michael Bloomberg.
Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org