It’s about the stories, not the media | Editor's Note
Last updated 4/7/2016 at Noon
In a digital world, where you’re given almost instantaneous access to information, are printed newspapers still relevant?
As the editor of a weekly newspaper with both print and online editions, I’ve found this question has become an ever-present part of my work life.
While there is no clear answer, newspapers both daily and weekly are still being printed and read, and a billionaire thinks it’s wise to invest in them.
According to USA Today, in a 2012 letter to company shareholders, CEO Warren Buffett said, "If you want to know what's going on in your town whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job.
“A reader's eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end.
“Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents."
Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns 31 daily newspapers and dozens of weeklies in 10 states. He added two more to the list in March 2015 eons ago in the digital age.
While he would not invest in most papers, as readership has been on the decline, Buffett said local newspapers, with a “sensible internet strategy,” will remain viable.
To gain some insight into the fate of newspapers and media in general, I attended a panel discussion on March 31 titled “Why the Media Matters: The Future of the Media in a World of Change” at Townhall Seattle.
The discussion offered an opportunity to hear from media experts Mara Liasson,
NPR’s national political correspondent; Kathy Best, Seattle Times editor; John Cook, co-founder of GeekWire; Dan Dixon, chief community engagement officer at Providence Health Services; and Caryn Mathes, president and general manager of KUOW.
The question posed was “Why media matters?” not “What media matters?”
I’ll admit I’m a bit old-fashioned and have a bias toward print publications. I buy books old, used ones at Value Village. I pick up printed copies of Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, because they’re great publications, and they’re free.
However, I also go online to read the The Seattle Times, The New York Times and my favorite, The New Yorker. I prefer the printed versions at the library, but, like most, I’m pressed for time.
The point is: The “why” of media matters more than the “what” or the platform you get news from.
The “why” of media involves storytelling, and the number of stories out there are unlimited. For every story the media clings to and wrings every last breath out of, there are thousands and thousands more waiting to be told even here in Edmonds.
There are people who buy into the theory of scarcity, an economic theory where there are unlimited human wants and only limited resources. Great fuel for competition.
And we all know there is competition in media. Each media outlet wants to scoop the competition by being the first and fastest to get “the” story.
This causes a bit of a dilemma for those in the weekly newspaper business. Should we publish online as quickly as possible or take time to go more in-depth on a topic? Or both?
If we publish online first, will people continue to pick up the print version, thereby seeing our advertisers? (After all, we do need money to keep telling stories; a heart-breaking truth for those who see storytelling as a privilege, not a job).
So while there is obvious competition, I do not subscribe to the theory of scarcity in both stories and advertising, and life and I encourage competition, especially in media.
Stories are abundant, and the modes of delivering them to you are diverse print, online, radio and broadcast. As Caryn Mathes of KUOW said, people are now able to self-curate their media by getting information from multiple platforms and sources.
Mathes said KUOW no longer considers itself to be solely a provider of radio content; it’s an audio content provider, which provides content via radio and online broadcast accompanied by text and photos.
“Digital is just distribution,” Mathes said. “It’s about the storytelling.”
The Edmonds Beacon is a story provider, and we reach our audience through multiple platforms a weekly print publication and online at EdmondsBeacon.com, Facebook and Twitter.
So, don’t focus on the method of distribution. Focus on gathering reliable news from sources that uphold journalistic values.
“I believe, unflinchingly, for us, education matters. Truth matters. Transparency matters. And, in all instances, integrity matters,” Dan Dixon said.
“These are the very bedrock of the fourth estate, and the very bedrock that has made this nation great, and that is worth preserving.”
No matter the method of distribution, those in the media who strive to adhere to these values will succeed and remain relevant.
The Beacon believes in these values and strives daily to uphold them. I believe other local news outlets do, too, and I encourage you to read as much news from as many sources as you can. Be skeptical. Be informed. Our democracy hinges on having an informed populace.