Comment: Newspapers and the Future

By Patric Hedlund, Editor

Every month when we look over the accounts we feel a twinge of fantasy, wishing that the large printing bills we pay could vanish, and that we would all awake to a journalism world brought to you solely by sparkling, cost-effective, electronic pixels.

If you believe the frenzied marketing hype about a global lunge into ‘the cloud,’ you may find it surprising to learn that every month this year something a little different has actually been taking hold. Proof is mounting that print newspapers for local populations such as ours are here to stay for a good long time.

We reported to you this year that savvy investor Warren Buffet is buying up local newspapers. Rupert Murdoch this week pulled the plug on The Daily, his electronic-only newspaper. The Orange County Register is increasing its print distribution, hiring reporters and expanding its print runs. Smart advertisers are verifying what the studies have been showing for years: print newspapers are effective as an advertising medium and trusted as a news source.

This week I received a nice note from a reader who knows what she is talking about:

"I’ll take this opportunity to say how much I value your turning The Mountain Enterprise into a real, serious journalistic venture. As an instructor of writing at UCLA (and in our better-funded days, I taught journalism writing), I can only give you kudos for spotting stories that need investigation. I am quite an admirer of how you’ve turned this little local newspaper around. My hearty support." -Sonia Maasik, UCLA Writing Programs faculty

The skills and ethics of committed journalists hold those in government accountable. They help sustain democracy locally and nationally. This is an intriguing moment. The evolution of economic strategies and the evolution of technologies are battling nose to nose to invent and test new business models.

Free online newspapers come up short if you believe sustainability matters…and it does. Even dedicated journalists must pay the light bills. The product of our labor is captured by web-bots serving Google and aggregators like Huffington Post. They harvest the work of little guys, like us, from the internet, for free. It is a neat technology that makes them billionaires when they go public on Wall Street, but they do not invest in sustaining responsible journalism for Main Street. So, who serves the public with trusted, verified news to balance wild internet rumors?

The wisest minds of our times have not yet found a way to keep strong, consistent community journalism alive for free. In 2012, content of the online L.A. Times and the online New York Times began disappearing behind paywalls. In 2013 the Washington Post will do the same.

Right here in our hometown, The Mountain Enterprise has been part of the experiment.

Our work has won statewide awards for best online news reporting in California in all distribution categories. Our website earns millions of page views a year.

Meanwhile, we all navigate through this lingering recession. We have become leaner and more disciplined.

In 2013 our award-winning Breaking News alerts and some top stories will be open to the public on our website, but all the meat and potatoes of our reporting will be available bright and early Thursday mornings in our newspapers on newsstands; in subscribers’ mailboxes; then open online on Friday to our online subscribers—who also have access to our digital archives.

Thank you to our readers and community reporters who are our partners as this exciting journey continues. Watch for some fun surprises in the coming year.

This is part of the December 14, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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