Local media is changing

Community papers have to adapt to reader demands

I began my journalism career 27 years ago, in the mid-90’s. To put it in perspective, when I was in journalism school they taught us how to develop photo-paper prints in a darkroom, and our cameras used 35mm film.

That’s how long I’ve been hanging around.

It’s fashionable for critics of local media, especially newspapers, to predict gloom and doom, which from everything I’ve seen isn’t true. Many critics describe newspapers as “dead,” which is not true. At least in Wetaskiwin. The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer prints over 11,000 copies of our paper every week and we have very few copies left over.

In fact, if our delivery folks miss a house or two, we tend to hear about it very quickly. In my opinion, there will always be avid readers who like to sit on the patio after supper, drink their coffee and read the paper. It sort of reminds me of a little newspaper clipping one of my college instructors showed us one time (I should have kept it, but didn’t, stupid). It was a story predicting the demise of newspapers because of new technologies coming along. The prediction was that new technology would soon mean the end of newspapers. The technology, of course, was radio, and the clipping was from the 1930’s.

Newspapers do face challenges, though. Some readers may not know it, but a newspaper is a for-profit business. Local newspapers sell advertising to local businesses to generate revenue, which in turn supports the news division by paying journalist salaries.

For the past 15 to 20 years, this approach has been eroded by big box stores, which don’t generally advertise in local papers. The big box stores like Costco don’t support the local paper, and draw shoppers away from small towns and their business community and encourage them to spend their money in the big city, which does little to support our community. The small town advertisers suffer even more, and the local newspaper along with them.

Then there is social media. According to entrepreneur.com, social media has become a marketplace first, social media feedback can be detrimental to mental health, personal data is a social media commodity and social media rewards sensationalism. Despite the fact most if not all social media has been proven to be a highly toxic environment, some businesses still feel their advertising dollars are best spent there. The frustrating part for a local newspaper is to watch some members of the community spend their marketing dollars on social media, but when those same community members have events coming up, they then call the local paper for coverage.

I’m not sure who else sees the flaws in that philosophy, but if community members want the paper to cover their events, surely then they must understand the importance of the local paper?

I personally think just as many people want to read news as in the past; some want to read it on their phones, their tablets, their laptops or delivered to their doors every Thursday.

We managed to survive radio, I have a feeling we’ll survive social media. But we’re going to have to change and adapt to do it.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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