A MinD in MoTown

So you’ve chosen to wave the white flag?
April 3, 2009, 10:50 am
Filed under: News Girl, Such a quandry

Can a newspaper truly do its job without competition? Are reporters as eager to “get the story” when there are no other journalists vying for the same news? Will writers maintain the same care and concern for each word they insert into an article even though it’s the only piece that will be written about that subject?

My thoughts are “no” to all of the above, and unfortunately that’s not just what the news industry is facing as publications continue to die out, but these are the circumstances I’m afraid my paper may encounter as well.

When the Charlotte Observer cut its staff several months ago, news from my neck of the woods – 20 miles north of the Queen City’s Uptown – became less frequent despite a large number of subscribers in Mooresville. Rather than reading news specifically geared toward this region on several pages twice per week, MoTown was lumped together with all of the communities north of Charlotte and began offering less than three news items each week about our area – unless something big occurred, of course. So as the Observer’s staff dwindled due to layoffs and buyouts, so did our competition for news in this town.

And now, the only other newspaper published in town has called it quits. The weekly Lake Norman Times* has two issues left before it ceases publication on April 15, leaving my Mooresville Tribune with practically no competition for local news. In my opinion, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Sure, more people may have to scrounge up the 75 cents for our publication if they have any desire for MoTown information, but will our – I suppose I really mean “mine” as I’m currently our only full-time staff reporter – writing and eagerness to attain the news suffer? Although I know my personal work ethic is to rarely never settle for something subpar, I also know the race to get the story provides that extra push, that additional motivation I occasionally need to get off my ass, find the right sources, get the best comments and submit that story as soon as possible. Will and can that drive remain when, in the back of my mind, I know I’m the only one out there searching for the information?

I hope it does because I believe a certain passion radiates from a news item that took a little more footwork. But it’s not just me facing this issue; it’s a plethora of papers across the country who are watching their competitors slowly wither away and become little more than archival material. And as a result, it’s my fear that the news will navigate away from interesting and noteworthy to tedious and lackluster, and then what hope do publications have of fighting to exist?

Perhaps this is just another problem stemming from the demise of the news business, or maybe it’s simply a symptom causing the downward spiral. But it’s my opinion that competition fosters first-class news and its loss may have quite the negative effect on an industry already in dire straights.

* I interviewed with this newspaper about two months before I got the Tribune job. They clearly didn’t offer me the position, and now that they’re shutting their doors, I’m pretty damn happy about that.

4 Comments so far
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Well on the upside, it looks like your job is solid for awhile. I’m not sure where the print media is going to be in 5 years though. I’m not following it closely, but I recall some legislation that might let newspapers consider themselves non-profit in order to try to stay in business longer. Its a tough gig you’ve got MinD, I wish you the best!

I don’t think anyone can follow this dying industry as closely as needed, but it’s disappearing, without a doubt. Though there will always be a need for news, so really, it’s quite difficult to predict what will ultimately occur. Thanks for the well wishes, Pat!

Comment by mackiep1

More and more, I breathe a little sigh of relief that I switched majors my freshman year. Without competition, there is no innovation. Why bother being above average when there is no rival out there pushing you to excel? I can most definitely see how this is bad news (at least in longterm view).

Very well said, Kendall! And with no push to excel, how can news survive? Blah.

Comment by Kendall

I do believe the newspaper industry followed the tracks of the train industry all those years ago. By simply “staying the course” and handling themselves as a newspaper business or a railroad business, they failed to adapt to the media & transportation market which they were in.

When airplane and land transportation was on the rise, the RRs failed to adapt their strategies. Many papers did the same thing and failed to adapt appropriately to the emerging trends in the news market.

Being the last of a your town’s employed reporters, I do feel that you have a great weight to carry on your shoulders. Instead of seeing the lack of competition in the news paper game and relaxing, change your mindset and look at your vast competition in the media game. You’re competing against CNN, NBC, Fox News, and yes even Comedy Central.

Considering where I live, I wouldn’t quite say I’m competing against those entities. I’m pretty damn far away from them, if you ask me, ha. And we have other reporters – just nobody full-time. Your comparison to the railroad industry is an excellent one though. And while so many newspapers are attempting to adapt now – moving news to the Internet, for example – it might be too little, too late.

Comment by omegaradium

At least it looks like your job is pretty solid right now. You’ve got that going for you. I can imagine the lack of competition thing being challenging, though. We have three small, small newspapers we are competing with, and while we gather the news much better, people aren’t a fan of us (because we’re corporately owned.)

People have issues with us for the same reason. I don’t understand why being under an umbrella organization makes a newspaper any less valuable and credible, but others simply don’t see it that way.

And ya, my job looks very solid at the moment ::knock on wood::, but there’s also this sense of “stuck.” i may not be ready to leave this paper yet, though it’s sad knowing the option isn’t really even there because there’s nowhere to go! Unfortunately, I think you might be able to relate to that as well.

Comment by E.P.

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