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.
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