Just how bad off is the newspaper industry?
David Carr, media writer for the New York Times, characterized newspapers as like used Humvees – “a hulking beast that has lost relevance in a changed landscape.”
In his usual eloquent prose, Carr described the decline of the industry, which he notes is about half the size as seven years ago.
He didn’t say whether he was referring to revenue, profits, or number of employees, but all would be about right.
In a fascinating development, the editor of the Boston Globe – which is owned by the New York Times – responded with a letter to the editor, which was printed in the Times. How often does that happen?
Marty Baron took issue with Carr’s metaphor. Newspapers may be struggling financially, he said, but they are still important to their communities and to the nation.
“Local and regional newspapers may have lost revenue, but they haven’t lost relevance,” he wrote.
As evidence, Baron offered a list of stories in newspapers across America that had made a difference – from The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania exposing the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune finding Florida law enforcement officers were allowed to stay on the job despite stealing from crime victims.
Baron is right on. From national companies like the NY Times and Wall Street Journal down to community dailies like The Monroe Evening News, newspapers remain almost as relevant as a decade ago.
They may have shrunk in size – I cringe sometimes when I pick up the Evening News and feel more air that paper between my hands.
They may have shrunk in staff – by my count the Monroe daily has about two-thirds of its news staff from seven years ago when I arrived in the newsroom.
But the Evening News – just like all those other papers mentioned by Baron – remains an important mainstay of life in Monroe County. It still plays the same invaluable roles.
It keeps the populace informed – not only about who is running for school board, but also which bridge will be closed for construction and who won the Bedford-Monroe soccer game.
It still holds elected officials accountable. There’s not a public official in the county who doesn’t know the Evening News is there, fulfilling the time-honored watchdog role.
And it still ties the community together. It’s where Monroe discusses its problems and celebrates its successes. It’s where you go if you want to be an informed, responsible citizen, or if you just want to know how a former local athlete is doing on his college team.
No one wants to imagine a future without it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s mostly online, with a smaller print version.
As long as it’s there, to keep us informed, and to keep a watch on public life.
Yes, it’s smaller. But it’s still very important.
The credit for that goes largely to those journalists who are left behind, still fighting the good fight.
There may be fewer of them, but they’re working hard to continue to be valuable to their readers – whether at the Boston Globe or the Monroe Evening News.
They’re doing more with less, somehow maintaining that importance, that relevance, that is so vital to community life.
My hat’s off to them.