KPA Conference Proves Vitality Of Community Journalism


Every now and then I get stopped on the street and asked if the newspaper business is going OK considering the slump in the economy, and I always answer by assuring the person that everything is going just fine.

I realize that can be hard to believe at times considering the amount of attention the closing of papers such as The Rocky Mountain News, the conversion to an online-only product by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the bankruptcies filed by several newspaper companies.

However, those large, daily publications are hurting because they have been getting it all wrong for far too long.

Nearly every paper experiencing such pains is having to significantly alter the way its business operates, especially in towns that are trying to support two daily newspapers.

Having two papers in one town simply isn’t feasible anymore. It hasn’t really been a very workable scenario for several years, and it the downturn in the economy is just making that even clearer, causing one of two competing newspapers to finally die.

The bigger cause for their current plight is they have been ignoring what is going on in their own backyards.

Instead of worrying about events such as the little league baseball games that happened on Thursday night, they have been covering national stories. They have been trying to cover the world instead of focusing on what they know best — their hometown news.

So do I feel much sympathy for any daily that is struggling? Not really, especially if I can flip open any given day’s issue and see a story that isn’t about the local world the publication serves.

Sure, some dailies are now adopting a “hyper-local” mindset, but that just infuriates me because calling it “hyper-local” is just dressing up what should be their job anyway.

Being “hyper-local” isn’t something new and inventive. It is what small-town newspapers have always done, and any daily that uses the term “hyper-local” might as well be saying, “We haven’t been doing our jobs.”

Again, I hate that term, but that is a rant for another time because the important thing is that community-minded news is thriving.

That’s where weeklies come into the equation.

Small papers such as The Ledger are doing well because they are making a concentrated effort to cover the news that is happening within the community and allowing readers to find their national and world news from other sources because those other news outlets won’t cover the senior pool league or the D.A.R.E graduations like a weekly will.

I know weeklies are vibrant and beneficial to the communities they serve because I work at one, and I had the distinct pleasure of being around many weekly newspaper publishers on Friday and Saturday during the Kansas Press Association’s annual convention, which was held in Wichita.

As the youngest journalist there, I had the honor of speaking on two panels about how these already viable publications can take their craft to the next level by incorporating online tools such as blogs, video and various social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

One panel, which was held during the primary luncheon on Saturday, addressed blogs specifically.

Other than myself, my fellow panelists included newspapermen Les Anderson, Rudy Taylor and Dan Thalmann, and we all discussed the pro and cons of blogging. Besides Taylor, we are all for it, and by the end he said he too was convinced of the value, as were several members of the audience.

This was an incredible experience for me. People who know the business inside and out were listening to and asking me questions, and several of them probably had children older than I am.

Admittedly I was a bit worried about the reception I and my fellow panelists would receive because sometimes people in journalism don’t want to change if something is working, which putting out a weekly newspaper is for most weekly publisher.

However, the panelists and I were there to stress the importance of the future and how important of a role having a Web presence is and will be.

I feel incredibly pumped and optimistic for the future of journalism in Kansas because so many of the publishers seemed to understand what we were evangelizing.

I felt like I contributed, and it felt great to have people come up and ask me questions and really want to know what I thought and what advice I could lend.

I was valued, and that’s a great thing since I am basically just beginning my journalistic career.

Also, though, I found I really enjoyed giving those presentations.

I don’t know how I would have felt if I was all by myself, but while being a part of the panels, I never felt nervous once, which I attribute to the fact that I knew and was passionate about what I was talking about.

The warm reception for the publishers and editors in attendance gave credence to that.

I am energized by that conference, and I can’t wait to put that energy to good work.

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