Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I wrote the following as the column for the newspapers I edit. I really believe that the melt-down of corporately-owned media, which has been coming for several years, along with the economic downturns has created a perfect storm that will eventually affect the nature of our democracy.

The business model media operates on now has not been changed by the Web at all. In fact, the Web is operating on the same business model of advertising to pay for free-to-the-consumer content. That model can not sustain a structure of professional journalists presenting the stories that need to be told. Many "citizen journalists" do a great job – I'm proud to be associated with several great ones in Pioneer Valley Central – but none of them can do that job as a paying gig right now.

I know there are of people who would disagree with this assessment because they think the Web and digital media on the brink of replacing all other mediums. Dream on.

Can you afford a Blu-Ray player and a HD TV right now? Most people can't. Do you want to buy a "kindle?" What do these futurists say when confronted with the poverty that we have in a city such as Springfield? Take away the free papers and the books in the library and expect people who are having a tough time finding food to trade up to the new digital age?


We need to re-train our audience to pay more of their share for content – just like magazines have done for years now. We need market "real" news – not celebrity slop – as just as important to folks as who Madonna is currently with.

I'm just back from participating in a panel discussion at the sixth annual communication conference presented by Western New England College and the Valley Press Club and I'd like to thank all of the people who made a point of complimenting our coverage of their organizations. I passed your remarks onto my deserving staff.

Since the storm and the economy undoubtedly kept some people from attending this conference, which routinely offers real solutions and ideas to its attendees, I'd like to offer some suggestions on how businesses and organizations should cope with the ever-changing media landscape.

First a bit of a discussion of current affairs:

Newspapers in general have done an excellent job in detailing its own suicide a public death caused by incompetent and often greedy corporate management and an erosion of the advertising base brought on by the dominance of national and regional chains that don't feel the need to advertise.

The corporate model has been to sacrifice the reasons people pick up a newspaper meaningful original content to maintain some other status quo. The result has been ever-decreasing readership.

And yet just what medium is going to offer the kind of local news that many people need: Britney and Olsen Twins-free real stuff about where you live, work and shop?

Most local television stations focus on weather, crime, money and weather. Sorry if my colleagues in television view this as harsh, but they have admitted it themselves.

Commercial radio has largely given up local content. After your local morning guys, talk/news stations parade syndicated programming. You know, I'd like to see Bax and O'Brien do a music-free talk show. I think they would make great straight talk show hosts.

I'm glad Bill Dwight of WHMP is allowed to do an hour of local, although Hampshire County-centric, radio. Thank goodness we have two public radio stations covering events and WFCR is opening a new studio in Springfield that should boost its journalistic role here.

And I shouldn't overlook the contributions of John "Binky" Baibak of WHYN-AM.

"The Valley Advocate" still packs a punch with the investigative and news analysis pieces that are often missing from daily papers.

I'm no Luddite. I love the Web, but community newsgathering and dissemination is still in its infancy there. The issue remains how to pay for content on the Web and whether or not newly self-minted citizen journalists learn and maintain professional standards.

Right now, in this market, no medium can deliver as much local news as weekly community newspapers, especially if matched with a solid Web site. This combination truly supports readers looking for local stories and advertisers wishing to find a local audience.

And by "news" I mean more than just crime and politics, but the supposedly "little" stories that actually mean so much to so many people.

Yeah, I'm a partisan. I freely admit it. I just don't see other media fulfilling the local role that used to be the norm here.

And in order for this country to function we need to know things, besides whether or not the marriage of those chuckleheads on "The Hills" was legal.

So what can you do as someone wishing to spread your local news message? I'm afraid there's a little work involved. Here are some ideas:

First, think about whom you are trying to reach. Are age, gender or location criteria?

Then try to match your targeted market with a medium that reaches that market. This step might take a little research.

Get to know us! Contact that medium and find out how they wish to receive contributions: hard copy by mail, fax or e-mail? Who should receive the material? What are the deadlines? Here at Reminder Publications I prefer e-mail. Send me your release two weeks before an event at

Do a Google Blog search to see if there are blogs that cover your topic. Drop them an e-mail. Locally, Pioneer Valley Central ( is one such local news blog, but there are others.

Consider buying a digital camera and video recorder. We publish submitted photos and we are increasing the number videos (linked by YouTube) on our Web site. Call me (525-3247 ext. 103) or drop me an e-mail about a possible video submission.

And please shop at the local businesses that support publications such as this one.

There is no other locally owned and operated medium than community newspapers that is as invested in the future of an area. We are here to help restore and grow our circulation area by presenting as full a picture of it as possible.

Got a question? Ask me. And thanks for reading.

© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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