October 24, 2007

Still Looking for News

I had just gotten off the telephone with my brother in San Diego. He was still in his house, but upwards of one million people had either evacuated their homes or had been urged by fire officials to get out. Strong Santa Ana winds were fanning flames up and down the southern California coast. It was the worst area fire my brother had seen in the 30 some years he’s lived there.

This story, which had caused all of the major television networks to converge on the area for in-depth reports and special broadcasts, was big. I picked up my Rapid City Journal, hoping they might recognize its importance. Well, they did…..sort of. Not above the fold on the front page, or even below the fold on the front page. For that matter, it wasn’t even in Section A. I had to thumb through sections B, C, and D to find the story in section E. At least it was given precedence over Sports, which was way back in Section F. Uh….well, maybe not entirely.

Right there on the front page, where I had hoped to learn about the fires in California, was a headline and photo about Sturgis upsetting S.F. Lincoln and Mobridge defeating Bennett Co. in high school football playoffs. There was also about six column inches that told about underwater pumkin carvers in Florida, and a cute photo about “care packages” for students away at college.

While there was a rather obscure “teaser” telling me to go to E1 for news about the fire, the only real news story on the front page was a Steve Miller article about John Thune promoting ethanol provisions in the Senate farm bill. Well, that may not be hot news, but at least it resembles some form of journalistic integrity. I must confess that I almost missed it. The headline was obscured by a nine-square inch advertisement sticker reminding me that this is GMC Truck Month.

The Rapid City Journal isn’t the only newspaper that’s trying to generate revenue from front-page ads. It’s a trend followed by the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other big city papers. It reflects the hard economic times upon which the newspaper industry has fallen. Front page sticker ads. Advertising fees for obituaries. And who knows what’ll be next.

I suspect much of this comes from “giving readers what they want,” although I certainly didn’t ask for a Spearfish Motors ad on the front page – or anywhere.

I’m among those who thinks it a bit tawdry to put “Annie’s Mailbox” across from the comic section. While my granddaughter is reading "Peanuts," it’s only a hop-skip-and blink across the page to bold headlines luring readers to a weird variety of titilating if not morbid details of all sorts of social problems that readers feel compelled to share with the world. There’s usually deliciously deviant "lifestyle" articles there at least once a week.

Now my fear is that the Rapid City Journal will succumb to reader requests and move “Annie’s Mailbox” from the comic section.........…….….to the front page!


Jim Thompson said...

Larry....you are right on the button...I believe that newspapers have succumbed, as radio did, to the lure of the dollar rather than fulfilling their duty: report the news...interestingly enough the RCJ on line conducted a poll that asked readers to give their opinion on a football playoff question...that showed that 41% fo their audience didn't even follow football....the largest total of their options...yet still, some editor somewhere believes they know best. A sad day for the country...but probable it indicates that there's more to come.

roger said...

All the newspapers are going to the "local" format. National news is lucky if it covered on the second or third pages, and then coverage is pretty thin. We are reading the Kingsport (TN) Times News now, and the format is the same. A big story today, "Bristol preacher pleads guilty to DUI, indecent exposure." It's a sordid little tale of how a 58 year old preacher/talk show host drove up to a police car and offered the officers oral sex. I could have done without the article at all, much less on the front page. Is this what people really need to know? I don't think so. Don't we really want to know what is important in the world, like Iraq, Iran, and our country's financial situation? I have to go to the web for real news. Thanks for the blog!!!