The Herald Bulletin

November 4, 2013

Scott Underwood column: Newspapers must serve many masters

By Scott Underwood
The Herald Bulletin

---- — A litany of speakers stalked an auditorium stage in the Indiana State Museum. Projected on the screen behind them, a battery of pie charts and bar graphs illustrated their collective message — newspapers must continue to change; the digital revolution is upon us.

The name of the organization sponsoring the convention, The Associated Press Media Editors, symbolizes changes sweeping the industry. For all but the past two years of the organization’s 80-year history, APME stood for Associated Press Managing Editors.

It’s the new age of newspaper, and it’s an exciting time. The tools and platforms at our disposal seem to multiply annually.

At the outset of my career in the 1990s, we had only print to deliver to our readers. Now we have a website, a mobile website, video, online photo galleries, databases, electronic reader forums, e-editions, Twitter, Facebook and other media for engaging the community — and the world.

While print readership has declined in most markets, including ours, the overall reach of newspaper organizations, including ours, has grown. And there’s the potential for accelerated growth. The future may be a little unclear, but it’s bright.

As I left one of the APME convention sessions Tuesday afternoon at the state museum, my spirits were buoyed, particularly, by a resonant assertion of the final speaker — 20-somethings are veracious consumers of news, and they strongly identify with “legacy” products, such as The New York Times on a national scale and newspapers like The Herald Bulletin on a local scale. It’s no surprise that they most often access those products digitally, rather than in print.

Mulling this, I took a short walk outside the museum to breathe in the brisk fall air. When I returned to the building, I was hit by the harsh reality that confronts community newspapers.

I came face to face with a gray-haired state museum receptionist. She asked whether I needed help finding my way around the museum. When I told her I was attending a newspaper convention, she let me have it right between the eyes.

Newspapers are smaller. They have fewer pages. They have less news. They don’t arrive when they’re supposed to. The print is too small. Who cares about the website stuff?

I tried to explain the shrinking scale of print economics and the changing habits of news consumers. It made no difference to her. She wanted newspapers to return to being newspapers and to leave all that digital mumbo-jumbo to TV and radio.

She was a nice lady. She smiled at me and wished me a good day.

But she reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that the newspaper industry serves many masters, including an army of readers who love print, don’t care beans about websites and couldn’t give a tweet about Twitter.

Editor Scott Underwood’s column appears Mondays. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @THBeditor. Contact him at scott.underwood@heraldbulletin.com or 640-4845.