I guess Don Luzzatto got up on the wrong side of the bed. His Friday editorial in The Virginian Pilot was an interesting juxtaposition of how a movie company is like a newspaper (huh?) thinly disguised as an attack on bloggers. I’m not sure what someone slipped in his latte but despite “how many people spend their day keeping [him] from looking like a fool,” the rant made up for it.
Unpaid bloggers are not going to donate a Tuesday night to watch a four-hour hearing on the tax rate, and then a couple of hours more to communicate what they saw to everyone else. They’re not going to slog through 400 pages of documents to figure out that a city employee spent public money on new tires. Let alone do that over and over again.
I don’t know what blogs Luzzatto has been reading but the Virginia blogosphere is full of examples of bloggers doing exactly that. But bloggers aren’t the problem, Don. We are just a small part of the evolution. Just as TV eclipsed radio, so has the internet eclipsed newspapers. Radio isn’t gone, though, and newspapers don’t have to become extinct, either.
I subscribe to The Virginian Pilot . I have for about as long as I’ve lived in Norfolk – 30 years next month. (Not being a morning person, I actually used to subscribe to the afternoon paper, The Ledger-Star.) And I read the paper every day. Do I read it the same way I did 30 years ago? No. The primary reason my reading habits have changed is because the content of the newspaper has changed. I actually read the same stuff in the paper today as I always have – the local news, the obituaries, the op-ed page – but there’s just a lot less of that in the paper now than it used to be. More and more of the Pilot is a reprint of other newspaper articles, generally stuff I’ve seen online before it gets reprinted. Before the internet, most folks didn’t have access to The Washington Post or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, or even The Richmond Times-Dispatch. We had to rely on the Pilot to read George Will or Molly Ivins or E J Dionne. That is no longer the case, yet the Pilot continues to act as if it were.
The availability of information over the internet is not the fault of bloggers. The news organizations are all pushing their content out that way. Heck, I have an AP feed in my sidebar, for goodness sake! Don’t blame the bloggers for using that information. Besides, I think you give blogs too much credit. Most folks, even those who get a lot of their news on the internet, have never even read a blog. (According to Wikipedia, the 2007 circulation of the Pilot was nearly 200,000 readers a day, more than that on Sunday. The largest blogs in Virginia average about 1.5% of that. And you’re worried about blogs? Maybe down the road, but not today.)
I have said before that I think newspapers in general and the Pilot in particular have got to remake themselves in this changing environment. More than anything, the newspapers have to become relevant again. Newspapers have to give us what we can’t get elsewhere. I can think of two things.
One – education. That huge story on DePaul that was on the cover of Sunday’s Business section? Pretty graphics and not a single new piece of information. Even the quotes were the same. How about explaining the process by which hospitals are given beds, Norfolk’s role in the selection process, etc.? How about a story about the Dillon Rule, given that I read LTEs almost daily that say “when I lived in (XXX), we did (YYY),” yet no one explains why it can’t be done here. (Of course, this also assumes that your reporters understand this stuff. But that’s why you pay them the big bucks, right?)
Two – concentrate on local. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m quite familiar with the adage “if it bleeds, it leads,” but does the bulk of the local coverage have to be crime or wrongdoing? To read the Pilot is to come away with the impression that we live in a crime-ridden area and all of the local government is incompetent or corrupt. Give us some stories about government working as it should. And since regionalism is important, ditch the separate local sections (Compass, Clipper, etc) and bring that stuff back into the main paper.
Doing this well – covering local news, commenting on it – takes an expensive organization.
Well, then, put those resources to good use.
I know that many at the Pilot are concerned about it being for sale. And I have no doubt that this issue was weighing on Don’s mind when he wrote his op-ed. But the folks at the Pilot need to take a good look at their operation and make the changes necessary. The paper’s survival depends on it.
And Don – stop picking on bloggers 😉
UPDATE 07/10: It has been pointed out to me that I misspelled Don’s name in this post. I have fixed it, as well as fixed the spelling in the comments below, since no doubt all of you used my error in making your comments. (Of course, being that the Pilot manages to misspell my name at least 90% of the time, I probably should have just left it alone 😉 )