The real news

The recent sale of the Washington Post to the owner of internet giant Amazon.com is really quite interesting. 
Obviously, the owner of Amazon.com recognizes the business facts of life. The website began by actually selling a hard copy of books and other items. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how newspapers were still the primary source of news stories and feature writing. 
You have to have a source of news and writers need a bit of skill and a local base from which to write. The depth of writing that one gets from a newspaper isn’t usually matched by TV, radio or internet.
That doesn’t mean that newspapers aren’t changing or that they should resist change either. A reporter can write a story on a tablet, a computer or an I-phone. They can be curled up on a couch, sitting in a car or tucked into bed. They don’t need a centralized office but they do have to write.
Very few news or feature stories are off-the-cuff or impromptu. They are written by somebody, somewhere at some time. That task is still done best by newspapers.
There have also been many experiments with off-site work, flex hours, remote offices and telecommuting. They all work, but there’s still nothing that can substitute for gathering people in a central location and coming up with the final product. People need some face-to-face communication to get the quality of work that’s needed to produce news and feature stories.
Fiction writers can be hermits if they wish but for real news and feature writing, you have to have real people in touch with real people or the news flow simply withers and dies.
At The Banner, we have websites such as neepawbanner.com, riversbanner.com and myWestman.ca. None of the websites we have get all the attention they need or deserve, but we are trying to do the best we can. We plan to do more in the future.
One of the problems is that it’s still very difficult for a website to generate any money – let alone a profit. For every website out there that makes a profit, there are probably 100,000 financial duds. Some aren’t intended to make money as some sites are considered a hobby. However, as a business, a profit or benefit has to come.
On the benefit side, we can’t do without a website. People who don’t get a hard copy of our newspapers find us every day by going to our websites. We get calls from all over, saying, “We saw your web site…” They then usually ask for an ad or how to send us a news release.
One of the most annoying things about the news releases we get is that everyone from companies to government agencies to non-profit/charitable groups is that they expect us to publish their news releases. Not so fast folks! 
If a company or agency wants their release in our paper, there’s a sure way to get it there. It’s called, “Buy an ad”. Large companies and government departments are pretty cute. They have one person in charge of media releases and another person, in another department, in charge of advertising. When you let the news release person know that they need to buy an ad if they would like their stuff in the paper, they answer, “Oh that’s another department”. Occasionally, I have told companies and government agencies that they have our email on their news release list – and that they now need to get it on their ad purchasing list as well. That may sound harsh, but I don’t see any other industry regularly giving away their product without some compensation. Our compensation is ad revenue.
Without ad revenue, a newspaper can’t survive. Without ad revenue, the Washington Post won’t survive either. We have many loyal advertisers and this has made it possible for us to be in business now for nearly 25 years. Hopefully, the Banners and our websites will be around for another 25 years. 
It would be really cool to sit in on the planning meetings now that Amazon.com has bought the Washington Post. Now that leading edge has returned to the more traditional media, it will be very interesting to see how the two “blend” so to speak. There will be blending and companies like Amazon and the Washington Post can possibly afford to take on the financial risks to make that happen. We in the local paper business will have to to adapt. Perhaps we can learn from the big boys in this changing business, because we will have to adapt as well. One thing will stay constant. News will still have to be generated locally. There’s no other way it can happen except on the ground, in real time with real people.

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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247