Phil Heron, editor of the Delaware County Daily Times, reminds me of that old guy who sees the end in sight on the near horizon and starts sharing stories of his time in the trenches. Many of the topics of his Monday editorials are on the industry he’s worked since the early 80s, newspapers. His memories of how things operated for the first ¾ of his career are in stark contrast to what the newspaper industry has become in the past 10-years or so with the Internet, rising prices, layoffs & closing, and a huge loss of readership.

It gives me great pleasure to read these pieces. I learn a lot and recognize that my efforts in this space started during the transition  period of this industrial shift so my burden isn’t to change from the old to the new, it’s to start anew and build an audience that receives the modern paper of today.

This Monday’s article from Phil focuses on the common ageless tenets of newspapers and I’m going to take this opportunity to uses his language to describe what I’m trying to build.

Phil opens with..

Though many newspapers are struggling amid a transition to online news and against many people’s belief that paying for this valuable commodity is unnecessary, the need for what local news operations do has not diminished. And local newspapers continue to do it better than anyone else.

Key phrases are,

  • ‘newspapers are struggling’
  • ‘belief that paying for newspapers is unnecessary’
  • ‘the need for local news has not diminished’
  • ‘nobody does it better than newspapers’

Newspapers are shutting down almost daily across America. I believe the Daily Times is about to shut down, or at least be a shell of what it is now. I don’t have any evidence to support that notion other than the fact that they are operating on very small margins, have a skeleton staff, charge a lot of money for their product, and aren’t getting new advertisers or readers. Call me stupid, but unless a few of those elements change quickly, they won’t survive much longer.

Phil won’t ask you directly, but he’s sort of asking you what are you going to do when there’s no one out there covering stuff like new school taxes, Aqua versus DELCORA and Chester Water Authority, PennDOT roadwork, election coverage, local sports, etc., for the county? You act like it’s not important. But what will you say when it’s gone?

The whole point of Phil’s piece is to bring attention to this year’s National Newspaper Week which is focusing on Knowing Your Five Freedoms.

It celebrates the five freedoms of the First Amendment — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble and the public’s right to let government know when it’s doing wrong.

When it comes to covering the news of local government, Phil says…

Your newspaper doesn’t pester public officials for the sake of it. It demands answers to legitimate questions, documents that should be public and open meetings for your sake. A newspaper’s motive in these battles is singular: to protect citizens’ right to know what their elected officials are doing, the right that underlies the freedom of the press.

When I think about what I do, I don’t pester public officials at all. I never meet with them to go over their policies, decisions, and plans. I don’t ask them questions, I’m not pulling their documents, I’m not attending all their meetings. But, I do believe citizens have the right to know what their elected officials are doing.

To that end, I believe local government should be self-reporting what they’re doing to the public. I believe the role of their staff public relations persons or their spokes people should be to communicate to outlets like Chester Matters what government is doing. Why else do you need a public relations person if you’re not providing at least that amount of information?

I print all submissions and when I don’t receive press releases on what local government is achieving on behalf of the municplaity or citizens, I can only assume they either don’t want you to know what they’re doing, or they just aren’t doing anything that’s good for you. If good things are going on in city government, the public relations people should be working overtime to get the word out to the outlets that people will notice.

That seems like common sense to me, but many people, not just local government officials, expect ‘reporters’ to come see them to get the story. HELLO! The Daily Times hardly has any reporters, and my little one-man-band paper obviously isn’t chasing anyone down to get a story. But both of us have telephones and email which are perfect tools to submit the news you want people to know about.

Here’s comes my favorite part of Phil’s editorial…

our job in reporting news is not to determine the truth. It is to report the facts.

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about how newspapers lie. It’s not that they mean to lie, but in the process of capturing facts, sometimes the people speaking to reporters lie. So, when the newspaper prints those quotes, and they’re lies, it’s safe to say that newspapers print lies.

The beauty about newspapers today, even more that yesterday, is the ability to connect to the newspaper staff and newspaper readers through the Internet. Phil says…

Don’t like what we have to say? Have a problem with our reporting? We have a spot reserved for you on our op-ed page. Pick up a pen, take a seat behind the keyboard and join the conversation.

We don’t ask you to agree with us. But don’t sit on the sidelines. Get involved in the process.

They say newspapers are the first draft of history. There’s never been a first draft that went right to the best seller’s list. We expect you to get involved. More than ever the news platform is designed for audience participation. There’s never been a better time to shape the news you want to see or enhance the news that’s put before you. You can continue to sit back and complain about all that you read in the papers or blogs, or you can get in the game and make yourself heard and understood.

If you continue to only consume news, the platform will die. If you use the new interactive news platforms that’s designed for your input and participation and get involved in the process, news will thrive, people will benefit, communities will grow, and fake news will have no place to thrive.