Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hope for newspapers

Perhaps there is still hope for print journalism after all.

I entered the journalism business in the mid-Sixties when newspapers were all but begging for reporters. As a J-school senior at Ohio University, I never had to send letters to newspapers inquiring about a job. They sent letters to me, and from all over the country. After Watergate in the early Seventies, newspapers entered their glory days when newspapers didn't just report news -- they made news with their investigative journalism.

By the turn of the century, however, cutbacks were in full swing. Newspapers were eliminating staff members, pages from their product, the news and features that had once been on those pages and, in many cases, even their own presses. It became more efficient to hire some other newspaper to print their editions in another city and ship them back for distribution.

I recall telling a colleague about a big national story that would be in that day's paper. Her reply: "I'll have to watch that on TV tonight." Yes, even those who worked for newspapers had begun to get their news from television, and then from the Internet. Younger people in particular paid little attention to newspapers.

By the time I retired in 2010, I felt I was getting out just in time, before my own job was eliminated. Today that newspaper that once filled a large two-story downtown building could be operated out of a storefront.

So why is there still hope for newspapers? I find it in, yes, a newspaper story about a college newspaper, The Collegian at Ashland University. The Collegian dropped its print edition last December in favor of updating its website. The staff assumed they were just riding the wave into the digital future. Then, a few months later, they conducted a survey and discovered to their surprise how many people, both on campus and in the community, missed having an actual newspaper they could hold their hands. Some people, they learned, didn't even know there was a digital edition of the newspaper, out of sight apparently being out of mind.

So now The Collegian has returned to Ashland University in print, even if only an abbreviated biweekly edition. It carries the key features from the digital edition, and perhaps most importantly, reminds everyone on campus that there is, in fact, a digital edition.

Print journalism may never return to the heyday of the 1970s, but the lesson of The Collegian suggests that even some of  those of the digital generation may prefer reading their news on paper.

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