I’ve looked at the front pages of newspapers big and small around North Carolina for a few years now and, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
For anyone interested in news — even only with a nodding acquaintance with it on a daily basis — much of what is in the paper is actually “olds,” to steal someone else’s term. (And by nodding acquaintance, I mean someone who catches the headlines on TV or the radio or social media. If you’re not in that category, you probably don’t take the newspaper anyway.) Much of what is on the front page isn’t new news. It could be new information, but it’s often not news in the old-fashioned sense of “this-just-happened-and-it’s-important. For instance, the top story today in Greensboro is an interview with Rep. Howard Coble, who announced his retirement on Thursday. In Winston, it’s a follow-up on student test scores, released on Thursday. In High Point, it’s a salute to a veteran.
All fine stories, but none breaking any big news.
In fact, the Veterans Day story is typical of another trend. Almost every Sunday, newspapers publish similar stories on their front pages. Today it was stories about veterans. Last week, it was stories about Election Day. Same thing three weeks ago. A month or so ago, it was Obamacare.
Again, all fine stories, but hardly stories that are unique to newspapers or that drive newspaper readership.
Newspapers have gone local, sometimes intensely local, which makes sense. What makes less sense is how so many have opted for quantity over quality. Reporters pump out stories as if they are getting paid by the word, which, in a way, they are. But with smaller staffs, that means that reporters are writing more easy commodity stories — stories that journalists call “turn of the screw,” meaning that something happened, but that it isn’t that important.
I suggest they zag in the other direction: deliver more by producing fewer stories. Make them top quality and aimed at serving what I want. (I being the reader.)
Try this exercise: Ask readers — it won’t work if editors do this by themselves — where do you want us to focus? After they rattle off half a dozen, tell them to narrow it to two. Two is enough, given the number of reporters you have. We’re talking focus here.
My choices: investigative reporting and good news stories. And, I bet I’m not alone in that.