Broadcast news: Just one way shuttered newspapers will be missed

Yesterday’s blog post touched on the likely slow death of a small daily newspaper.

Since 2004, about 1,800 mostly weekly newspapers have closed in the United States, according to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit journalism school and research organization in St. Petersburg, Florida. The pace has quickened during the pandemic, according to Poynter, and the early warning signs of a possible closure include a reduction in print days, furloughs and layoffs.

Today, let’s look at just one way newspapers will be missed if the day ever comes when their newsrooms are mostly all shut down.

My local daily newspaper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, is a good one. It dates back to 1870 and is owned by Woodward Communications, a privately held Dubuque-based company. I hope everyone in Dubuque realizes how fortunate the community is to have the owners of the newspaper who live in Dubuque and are not beholden to shareholders.

On September 11, the TH published a front-page story about a Dubuque nonprofit launching a free casserole program to help families during the pandemic. It is a good example of what an editor I once worked for would have called a local-local story. It’s the kind of “good news” that good newspapers have always done and that many readers have always said aren’t done often enough. The TH does this kind of journalism very well.

On September 17, sharp-eyed TH readers may have noticed essentially the same story was reported and broadcast by KCRG-TV, the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. KCRG is owned by Gray Television, a publicly owned company in Atlanta that owns TV stations in 93 markets.

I’m not trying to knock KCRG. As far as small-market TV news goes, KCRG is better than most.

But it’s nothing new for a story to be broadcast on TV after it first appeared in a newspaper. And it doesn’t just happen in Dubuque. If you closely read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post, you see many stories that then get reported by CBS, NBC and CBS. If you live in Chicago and read the Tribune or Sun-Times, you are probably often reading stories that then get reported on TV. Many of the best reporters and producers at CNN or the network TV news shows started their careers as newspaper reporters.

This is a dirty secret they don’t tell you about in my favorite movie about TV news. It’s something I first experienced on a regular basis 30 years ago when my stories in the Ottumwa Courier often found their way into the KTVO 6:00 news that evening. It’s something I ranted about from time to time during my newspaper editor days. (Side note: Please click on the link to my old column. It would be funny to see a 10-year-old column show up in the newspaper’s online list of most-read stories.)

It is what it is, to quote a famous American who was speaking about something else.

All I know is I wouldn’t want to be a TV news producer or news director on the day after all of the newspapers go out of business. I’m not sure how they will know what in the world is going on in their world.


One thought on “Broadcast news: Just one way shuttered newspapers will be missed

  • I agree. Local journalism is so important and yet the lack of funding is producing poorer reporting. It’s a vicious cycle. In my community, many complain about poorly-written stories but are unwilling to subscribe in order to support a better-paid staff of professionals. When I first moved to my current home, our neighborhood had a local newsletter. More local than the local paper. I loved it. When a new person moved in, a story was written about them. Births, deaths, and other small-time news appeared each month. I learned about the lives of elderly neighbors, largely confined to their homes, that had once accomplished incredible achievements. There is no online community that replaces this kind of information–instrumental in creating a shared sense of local civic duty.

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