May 9, 2008

Looking for world news

I’m sorry. I’m just a bit old fashioned and think the media in general -- and newspapers, in particular -- should do a better job of providing us with world news.

In general, television news has become increasingly glitzier and full of fluff – but that’s nothing new. Radio news, except from public radio, is on the endangered species list. And newspapers have shriveled news content perceivably, particularly world news.

Most of us now acknowledge that we live in a global economy – but you’d never know it reading the front page of the Rapid City Journal.

Never mind that tens of thousands of people were killed by a cyclone in Myanmar this past week. In the minds-eye of the Journal, that story wasn’t worth putting on the front page. Instead, we found stories about:

· Hillary Clinton speaking at a Sioux Falls airport hangar
· A non-fatal vehicle accident in north Rapid City
· Students making pancakes for Teacher Appreciation Week
· Retailers baiting shoppers with rebate specials
· A tourism consultant focusing on “locals” for a city makeover
· An enticement for the
Journal’s newest feature – “Page Too”

The front page of the Journal did an excellent job covering the blizzard that wreaked havoc on much of western South Dakota, and other important stories with decidedly “local” angles. But if Christ were to make a second coming, it would be relegated below the fold on page 7.

After considerable public outcry, Journal editors appear to have eliminated the routine front-page placement of area sporting activities and relocated it to the front-page of the sports section. Good move.

Now if they’d only acknowledge that world events deserve a shot at front-page coverage.

The subtle relegation of important world news to the back of the paper is like being shoved to the back of the bus. If it’s out-of-sight, it soon becomes out-of-mind. And a whole new generation of young Americans will continue to know the floor plans of most U.S. Wal-Marts, but won’t have a clue about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

In the past, we’ve justifiably been able to blame television for much of the dumbing down of America. Newspapers – at least the Rapid City Journal – seem to be a witting co-conspirator.


Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head...I've started reading online overseas papers to know what's going on in the world, and even the US.

Anonymous said...

I rely on Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal for print news. Not the greatest......but a far sight better than relying on the Rapid City Journal

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. But equally bad is how they've squandered their deep local knowledge and talent. Bill Harlan left with barely a word, and ditto with Dan Daly. And those are only two of the most recent. All of their long-time photographers with deep area roots are gone. Denise Ross, with her extensive knowledge of the local (and far beyond) political scene, was forced out. Ron Bender, God rest his soul, was forced out long before he was ready to go. And those are just the folks who were well-known in the community.

How many newsroom employees do they have older than 30 now? Most of the staff was "seasoned" when editor Mikel LeFort arrived, but he has a penchant for hiring folks just out of school. How will they fill their "local" news hole with their increasingly shallow knowledge of the area? Even television is beating them these days on local stories.

If you think it's bad now, just wait. Wait for the "everybody's a journalist" mentality. You'll see more and more photos and badly-written and poorly vetted stories from more and more freelancers.

LeFort came here from New York's finger-lakes area. He was used to having to focus on local news at the exclusion of anything else because most of his subscribers had the New York Times to do the other stuff for them.

He's not in New York any more. He doesn't seem to notice. He'd be perfectly happy filling all the pages with reader-submitted photos of family reunions and never running another story of international importance ever again.

Dissatisfied readers should vote by canceling their subscriptions, or at the very least by going over LeFort's head. Call HIS boss, publisher Brad Slater.

Once you lose your longtime subscribers, those folks will go elsewhere for the news they seek. And once they're gone, they won't come back.

It isn't the Internet that's killing newspapers. At least, not small-town newspapers. It's the newspapers themselves. If you think you're smarter than your subscribers, and you try to dumb down their expectations, you won't have many left.

But LeFort doesn't care. He'll be long gone before the collapse, leaving the paper in tatters with nobody who knows the community left to pick up the pieces. Corporate journalism is like that.

His boss, though, has a long history in the community, with a family here, and would, I suspect, be more responsive to complaints than the average corporate hack about the role a good newspaper should play in its community. I think he really cares about his community. And his newspaper. Direct your complaints to where they can do some good.

Anonymous said...

12:55 here.

Awhile back, I canceled the Journal. I couldn't take the front page local angle anymore.

RC has the weekly paper for local happenings.

I expect better from the Journal and am sadly disappointed in what is becoming a more 'Grit' or 'Cappers Weekly' style tabloid.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure this will come as old news to you, but perhaps this will serve as fodder for a new thread.

The Journal has further squandered their deep local talent pool. Now, longtime reporter and sometime manager Steve Miller has "retired," effective the end of June.

I use the quote marks because this is frequently how these announcements have been made, when in fact, these "retiring" folks have simply quit and have gone on to do something else. They haven't retired at all. They're just cashing in their pension plans from when the Journal was privately owned and run like the good business it once was.

I wonder which of their new, freshly-out-of-college and not-from-here reporters will have the depth to cover Miller's ag beat. Ooops -- I forgot that the paper hasn't hired any fresh-out of-college writers. The three-going-on-four open positions (since Bill Harlan left, for crying in the night!) haven't been filled.

I was thinking about the hires they've made for their photography and copy desk staff.

And since they've put an absolute ban on overtime, they're really hamstrung when trying to cover the flooding in the hills. Apparently the flood had the Audacity to Hope to occur in the same week when a presidential candidate showed up early in the week. Good thing they didn't dedicate their "local coverage only, no wire news here" to any of the local races and instead chased Democratic primary candidates from donut shops to restaurants.

But since LeFort has decided not to pay overtime unless he approves it in advance (is that legal, even in the right-to-work state of South Dakota?), and since no overtime will be approved, it's too bad for the local subscribers when the flood happens on Thursday in the same week when presidential candidates visit earlier in the week.

Good job, Lee Enterprises. You want all local news, but you squander your local expert resources and then won't pay to turn in the stories that folks need.

No wonder their circulation is down and their pages are wide open without enough ads to fill them a third of the way.

But their profit margin ought to still be all cozy. Just think of how much they've saved on salaries!