After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s paean to newspapers, a student asked me advice on picking the right newspaper at which to work. I didn’t go Gladwell’s route. I like newspapers and think that they are an excellent place for rookie journalists to get the training and discipline they need.
Here’s a smarter version of what I said.
1. Find out what papers laid off people in the past three years. Then read up on what the chief executives, publishers and editors said about the layoffs. If their message was along the lines of “News coverage won’t be hurt,” cross those papers off your list. The leaders are either out of touch with the news department or they are blowing smoke to their readers. They can’t be trusted.
2. Find out which chief executives got big bonuses, severances and/or retirement packages while their properties had laid off people. That tells you a lot about the character of the leadership. Avoid them. (I would make an exception of the New York Times because, despite its issues, it’s still the best paper in the country.)
3. Check out the website. Is it easy to navigate? Does it seem to be community-based, rather than newspaper-based? Does it have a good mobile app? Does it have more content than what was in the morning paper? Are there community voices? If the paper lags here, then you have to doubt its commitment to the future. While a newspaper company’s main revenue source is the paper itself, digital is the future. The smart papers are preparing for the future and investing profit into exploring and developing its digital future.
4. Does the paper have a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest? Is it active and engaging or does it just shovel content? Is there a staff presence that’s easy to find? Is the paper’s leadership there? If the answers are no — or the answers aren’t easy to determine — beware. The paper is either timid about social media, doesn’t understand how it works or isn’t committed to being where people are gathering.
5. Last — not first — look at the printed edition. Are the stories interesting? Are the photos and design well-done? Are they well-edited? Is there a sense of enterprise and risk-taking? Good ideas, good reporting and good editing will give you an excellent sense of what you can learn at the paper.
Not all newspapers are “dreary, depressed places.” The ones that are looking forward and taking care of their people are as lively and interesting as newspapers ever are. (Bear in mind that I was in the business for nearly 40 years — and never did I hear someone say, “Man, morale is so good in the newsroom!” I did hear a lot of people say, “This is one helluva good story.”)