Thursday, March 01, 2007

Community journalism evolves

If you’re reading this column on the printed page, you’re a member of a shrinking minority of people who read newspapers today. A generation ago, 70 percent of adults read a newspaper every day. Today, that number is just over 30 percent. Among young people — the under-30 set — the numbers are sharply lower than that.

But this isn’t news. Daily newspaper circulation has been declining for years. The troubles newspapers are facing today, from Main Street to Wall Street, are old news.

Technology has changed everything, turning the newspaper industry (among others) upside down. Fifty years ago, newspapers were your source to find out what was going on around the world or down the road. Today, anything you want to learn about, any piece of information, is just a click or two away, delivered to your desktop or to your mobile device, wherever you are. More than that, you can customize the news and information you want, so that you don’t have to waste your time sorting through information that someone else — an editor — has decided is important.

Daily papers rushed to jump on the information superhighway, putting all their content on their Web sites, without first figuring out how to reap advertising revenues in the new medium. They lost circulation and advertising revenues as a result and their profit margins slipped. Investors in publicly traded newspaper companies started to panic, resulting in the gloom-and-doom headlines we’ve all grown accustomed to reading: sell-offs, layoffs, buyouts, cutbacks.

That’s what prompted one of our loyal readers to ask me, during a Q&A at a recent speaking engagement, whether “his” community newspaper was in trouble, too. Is The Suffolk Times Is the News-Review going to be here 10 years from now? “How else will I find out what’s going on in my community?” he asked.

I was touched both by the man’s concern and by the reminder of the important role newspapers like The Suffolk Times the News-Review play in the community we serve.
We’re not going anywhere. Community journalism is alive and well and community newspapers like ours are, in fact, thriving. That’s because community newspapers provide people with news and information they really can’t get anywhere else — at least not yet. The daily papers have begun to notice this, and the new mantra among newspaper industry executives struggling and experts is now “local, local, local.” One of the most popular buzz words you hear in the industry now is “hyper-local.”
That describes what we do, and what we’ve been doing for 150 years, for 139 years, to a T. And it also describes what we’ll continue to do, and do better than anyone else, in the future.

But how we do it in the future will inevitably change — just as the look and feel of newspapers have changed, with better reproduction, color photographs and more graphics. We’ve adapted, retooled and improved. And we’ll continue to adapt, retool and improve.

The Web will continue to grow in importance as a means by which people access and consume news, including “hyper-local” news. As a result, the way news is packaged and presented will continue to change. News consumption is increasingly becoming a multimedia experience — it’s much more than words on a page, accompanied by a photo or two. Consumers now expect to be able to access photo slideshows, videos, audio interviews and podcasts as part of their online news experience. Even the label we use to describe the people we work for — you — has changed. You’re no longer readers; now you’re consumers and users.

The Web will also play an ever-larger role in news gathering and reporting, too. It has revolutionized the way reporters research their stories and even the way they find sources and leads.

Technology has also increased our ability to spend more time in the communities we cover. We can report, write a story on our laptop, take photos and videos with our digital cameras and file them all by e-mail from anywhere, completing our job without ever stepping foot in the newsroom.

Unless you’re a technophobe or averse to change, this is a really exciting time to be a journalist. The opportunities are nearly endless, and they are as accessible to small community publications like ours as they are to the bigger daily papers — because technology is inexpensive, easy to use and available to everyone.

We are embarking upon a major overhaul of our existing Web sites this year. Our goal is to make them more dynamic, interactive and user-friendly, and provide you with a rich, multimedia experience.
Soon, we’ll be publishing breaking local news on our Web site as it happens every day. You won’t have to wait till Thursday anymore. But you can still look forward to in-depth comprehensive coverage and analysis of the events and issues that matter most to you every Thursday in print.
We’ll have videos and podcasts and the ability to send the news and sports feeds you want to your computer or your Blackberry.
There will be blogs about neighborhoods and topics that hit home, as well as message boards where you can discuss what’s important to you with others who share your concerns.
We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re on our way. And we’d love to hear from you about what functions and features you’d like to see on our Web site. Until we get our message board up and running, we’ll have to communicate the old-fashioned way: Send me an e-mail at denise@timesreview.com. Or comment on my blog at civiletti.blogspot.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I look forward to the planned enhancements to the on-line version of The Suffolk Times, especially breaking news as it happens and neighborhood blogs. I enjoy reading the Times on-line every Thursday morning. I don't live in Southold full-time (yet), so it takes a while for me to receive the paper version by mail.

I have a suggestion regarding your current layout. There is empty space on the screen now. Why not make use of the full screen space, for example, with bigger pictures?

ceil said...

Hi Denise . Wow! Very exciting. I love the idea of not having to wait until Thursday..I would personally like local updates to my
e-mail, i.e. CNN breaking news...
The other night we heard sirens, all about Jamesport, last quite awhile..never found out what happened...
Great going...and the best with this new endeavor!