A MinD in MoTown

Some day, I’ll be begging for spare change.
May 21, 2008, 3:07 pm
Filed under: News Girl

For years now, I have known – and I’m sure others not directly involved in print journalism have known – the continuing downward spiral of the print newspaper. It has been in the news, ironically perhaps, and has become common knowledge, at least as far as I’m concerned. The development of the Internet made the need for a newspaper – and books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, phone books, etc. – almost negligible with the exception of those who prefer having something tangible in their hands. I am one of those people, and I’m also the kind of person who looks at a newspaper as something more than a method of discovering regional happenings. There’s a nostaglia behind the print journalism industry and it’s probably one of the older professions known today.

However, moments like one that occurred yesterday make me realize that my opinion matters little in the grand scheme of things and that the newspaper will likely be obsolete in an undetermined, but eventual period of time.

I attended a town of Mooresville budget meeting last night – not typically something that is part of my particular beat, but the government/town reporter is out of town until tomorrow. Another reporter in attendance from the Charlotte Observer – one who has a masters degree in journalism – announced to the commissioners and town Mayor that her last day on the job would be May 30 because she accepted a buyout from the newspaper. A buyout … which ultimately means the Observer is making cuts at their newspaper and she decided to leave with pay for a specific amount of time instead of involuntarily being laid off. Smart move, so I believe, but it just proves how indefinite the newspaper industry has become.

I have entered – and fallen in love with – a profession that may be nonexistant during my lifetime. Isn’t that depressing. If the Observer, the largest newspaper in the Charlotte region – the New York Times of this part of North Carolina – has moved into forced cutbacks because revenue is down, as are advertising sales, then what’s to become of the entire industry in a few decades?

Without a doubt, officials from media conglomerates around the world are preparing their reporters and staffs for this occurrence. It’s evident that the need for news has become more pressing than waiting until the next day when Johnny Smith throws the morning paper at one’s door. And with that need, that demand, comes the willingness of newspapers to mold to their consumers’ wants. Not a bad thing, every profession does it. But that means the retraining of me and many reporters both before and after to becoming online journalists.

Writing for the Internet is different than writing for the print version, as was reiterated to me and my colleagues in a “Continuous News” mandatory meeting on the onset of this week.

When putting a news item online, you are writing for an audience that likely isn’t searching out the news, but instead wants a quick, brief, easily digestable examination of the facts. They are checking the news while at work, while sipping on their morning coffee or maybe even while grabbing a fast bite to eat at lunchtime. They are not, unfortunately, perusing the newspaper site for the day’s headlines. They want “watercooler conversation” and little more.

Ultimately, for people in my job, that means the days of feature articles about the little girl who did something spectacular and the days of clever leads with witty headlines are over. People using the Internet for news want the straightforward information with no frills attached. And unfortunately, I went into this job wanting to be a feature writer, eventually a columnist, and now I’m a person who will likely lose that opportunity due to the everchanging news industry.

Some time in eighth grade I learned to love print journalism. My fascination for the Titanic sparked a wave of Titanic-related gifts that Christmas, including a collection of newspaper articles from 1912, both before and after the incident occurred. I read every article about the building of the ship, the people who would board her maiden voyage and then the articles about the many individuals who perished when she sank, as well as the aftermath that resulted for White Star Line. Those articles lived on, far after the publications they were written for disappeared, and somewhere in the back of my mind, perhaps it was then I realized I wanted to be a journalist.

I may not have decided that I loved this profession until I chose my path and began to follow it, but it has become something that brings me joy. I’m not one of those people dreading work each day – except the waking up part. Instead, I’m someone who proudly proclaims to make hardly any money for her chosen occupation, but loves every second of it anyway. And that’s all I ever wanted … to be happy with what I do.

And it scares me that this entire industry may become completely restructured in a number of years, forcing me to adapt and change into the kind of journalist I’d prefer not to be.

I was discussing much of this with my editor this morning who said that a number of years ago it was said the big city newspapers would overtake the smaller community newspapers. Strangely, he noted, the opposite is happening. Okay okay, the Mooresville Tribune isn’t likely to overpower the Charlotte Observer any time soon, but the Tribune remains while the Observer is forced to make cuts. The need for community news is still there. While Charlotte residents can opt to read the paper for their daily news need, the same information is broadcasted on the radio and a number of television stations as well. Here in Mooresville, just 20 minutes from Charlotte, we’re force-fed Charlotte news on the radio and TV, making the Tribune the only real source of local, community news – something that keeps our paper going.

Yes, the industry is changing, but perhaps community news will be able to prevail. Perhaps not. Either way, days like yesterday remind me how fickle the newspaper business remains and will continue to be, and sometimes, I’d prefer to forget that. I’d rather think about the little boy who is excited to see his face on the front page, or the 83X commuter bus riders who found out from me that service will continue. I’d rather blindly report the news and forget that any day, this opportunity could end for me, too.

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