Loose Ends: We need a local news meter

dollyviscardiRecently one of the readers of this newspaper called the editor to report that people were complaining about too much of a focus on local news. He was perplexed by the request, as other town residents requested that the Herald Times include more local news and feature more community members. A version of that complaint has probably been heard by more newspaper editors across the country, with the juxtaposition switched in the more urban areas — much national or international news, not enough local.
Most of our area residents are used to reading the weekly paper to find out what is happening locally — births, deaths, celebrations, special events. Most of the newer residents brought a daily newspaper fix with them, as even the small towns across the country took delivery of the regional daily. National and international news was always available, and the small town weekly highlighted local news. The biggest change in the media has been from 24/7 news bombardment due to the Internet.
It must be time for the Herald Times to invest in some handy-dandy gadget that measures the intake of local news each week. If people are telling the editor that they think he is reporting too much local news, then surely someone has invented a device that will give newspapers an idea of what the community wants covered. Some sort of a beeper could be installed to go off on “paper day” each week after the local news levels had been breached. This would alert the staff to cast about for current news notes, anything that might be of interest to the people of this community.
Using a loco-meter to survey the community’s interest in local stories periodically might prove to be quite interesting. A calibrated community survey that keeps track of resident’s feelings about local and national news in general would be instituted with the program. I’m not sure what direction the newspaper should go in making the final weekly decision of what news, local or otherwise, is fit to print? A closer look at the town’s expectations rather than listening to the suggestion from “somebody says” or “everybody feels” might reveal that it is a 50-50 split.
Do we want breaking news? Or, would we rather have some weekly acknowledgement of the national news events by noting on the front page what is happening in the country and the world. Do we truly need more news coverage of the national and international scene? The breaking news bulletins that were always part and parcel of a television viewer’s TV watching experience have become so adulterated by entertainment news that not many bother to look at the bottom part of the screen anymore.
Looking back at more than a hundred years of newspapering in the White River Valley, as reported by only two owners until the mid-1980s, it seems that the paper was the only way residents could find out who’d been added and taken away from the community. News relating to the bigger picture, such things as national election coverage and natural disasters were made in reference to community members. Their relationship to events was the story.
During the boom days, front-page news always included information about energy development in the area, as well as the national forecast for that development. Local stories got pushed to the back and people began asking for more local news. Much like the ups and downs of the boom-and-bust cycles, the local/national news coverage waxed and waned as well. Small snippets of coverage were adequate — most people didn’t look to their weekly newspaper to see what happened somewhere else. They got their information other places.
These days, many town residents get their daily news fix online. The newspaper credo cannot be “all the news that is fit to print” anymore, it has to narrow the focus to fit the needs of the area readers. Printing all that news when it is being spewed out on the airwaves constantly isn’t feasible for weekly papers — “all the print that isn’t fit to be called news” might be more like it.
dolly@theheraldtimes.com