A Modest Endorsement

"Newspapers as we have known them are dying."

So says Clarence Jones, author of "Winning with the News Media" (2005 edition).

Don't believe him? Take a look at this graph, which shows the decline in newspaper penetration from 1940 to 2000.

Don't understand why? Take a look at this article from The Media Audit. As of January of this year, the report states, "the percentage of adults who spend at least an hour a day on the Internet is significantly greater than the percentage of adults who spend an hour a day with the print edition of a daily newspaper."

During the same period of time when, according to Jones, "the percentage of Americans who buy and/or read a daily newspaper is steadily dropping," the number of households with home computers and Internet access has soared.

In North Carolina, it looks like this. The NC Sociological Association says that in 2004, 67% of North Carolina households have a home computer, and 59% have internet access at home. Lord knows this isn't evenly distributed; nearly every household with an income of over $100,000 a year has a home computer (97%), but less than one-third of those living under the poverty line do. The racial divide has shrunk though, meaning that more minority households have a home computer these days.

Newspapers have been hurt by the democratization of information known as the Internet. 24-hour cable news networks didn't help, either. Studies upon studies have been done, and continue. If you wanted to, you could compare the effects on small-town weeklies vs. metropolises with more than one daily. You could see how newspapers with online versions have helped or hurt their print circulation. But you'll have to do that on your own time.

My purpose here is to enter the discussion about what the News & Record is doing to improve their prospects by joining, not beating, the revolution.

John Robinson, the News & Record's editor, posted on his blog my idea to link web and print by dedicating column space to local bloggers. In the same day, veteran News & Record staffer Lex Alexander posted on his blog a plea for feedback on improving the News & Record's web presence:

For the longest time, newspapers have been an evolutionary business rather than a revolutionary one. Appropriately, for a city named after a Revolutionary War hero, that trend reverses course right here, right now. Join us.

This is a newspaper that is serious about participating. Around the country, others have noticed.

At PressThink, Jay Rosen assessed what Robinson and the News & Record could be accomplishing:

[Robinson's] imagination of Greensboro is being reshaped by blog, but being the editor who blogs is also changing how others in the community imagine him-- the Conversible Editor. (People who have been around a city for many years will sometimes tell you how "our" newspaper became "the" newspaper in the era of chain ownership. Wouldn't it be interesting if the reverse happened? The newspaper turns into "our" paper again.)

And in her personal blog iddybud, Jude Camwell, also author of Syracuse-based The Rational Liberal, says the burgeoning blog community in Greensboro "makes you wish you were there."

Somebody(ies) in Greensboro must be doing something right. See Ed Cone's post here, and read the comments, for some clues.

In launching his blog, Robinson explained it this way:

"We want to be the marketplace of ideas for the community. We've done that with the newspaper for 100-plus years. We need to learn to do it online now. Blogs are one more way." [via EdCone.com]

Blogs are not letters to the editor; they are letters to the world, with the world replying. By blogging, News & Record personnel opened a conduit between readers and writers. By including bloggers in the newspaper, the News & Record will complete the circuit, inviting each into the other's domain, for good.

Go to John Robinson's blog, or Lex Alexander's, and tell them what you want to see happen. They're listening -- and in doing so, probably ensuring the survival of Greensboro's daily newspaper.

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