The dailies save money and the weeklies die.
A few other North Dakota weeklies are now on the chopping block, suffering from the same changes facing daily newspapers. Higher costs, less advertising, fewer subscriptions.
As these factors kill the weeklies, the dailies are reducing their print editions and turning to electronics, causing laments and gnashing of teeth among readers. For dailies, death may be slow, but for weeklies, death is sudden.
It’s a community problem
Mr. Mayor, the crisis has moved from the printing press to your office because it is no longer a question of private enterprise. It’s a school problem; it is a community problem. This is something you should be concerned about because people rightly expect the buck to stop at your desk.
The problem is no longer “live or die” in the economic system. It is a public question that demands a public answer.
When your newspaper goes bankrupt, you – and the community – will feel a devastating impact on schools, sports, businesses, churches and local news. There will be a void in your city.
If you let your newspaper shrink (dailies) or die (weeklies), it will be an admission that your city is shrinking. Community life is worth saving.
Cut school activities
Whether or not the dailies have reduced coverage of primary and secondary school activities, I have no personal knowledge. Newspaper coverage may not be important to some in town, but it’s the time of their lives for students and they deserve recognition for the many activities that make up growing up in a supportive community.
When your newspaper folds, you’ll exclaim “if I had known” something we say to ourselves to avoid guilt for not taking action when the action could have changed the outcome. I’m telling you now, Mayor, so you don’t have an alibi.
The first step would be an honest conversation with the newspaper about areas of difficulty and then developing a work plan. The conversation should be about what can be done for the public good and not about a charity for a struggling business. In reality, the community needs the newspaper more than the publisher. This is for community benefits received.
The dailies and weeklies have a common problem: the staff. Because the economy has forced them to downsize, many photos go untaken and many events go unreported.
Writing in The Conversation, Georgia State professor Lara Salahi recently proposed using college students as reporters. With our abundance of institutions in North Dakota, every major city newspaper would be able to take advantage of such help.
Universities should make a change or two to their curriculum and give students credit for learning to write.
You might think it’s funny, but it’s not.
When I taught at UND, we were told to write through the curriculum. In other words, to inspire students to write more. I didn’t let students take their writing assignments home because I would never know who really wrote. So I had them write in class.
Students need to write
I was shocked. Half of the students in large and small schools could not write a complete sentence or spell correctly. It was evident; they need writing. Thus, articles for the local newspaper would kill two birds with one stone.
For towns without colleges, Professor Salahi’s suggestion could be applied to high schools where capable students could hone their writing skills and earn credits. I was a journalist at 15.
Mayor, just getting universities or high schools to participate would be a significant achievement. You could sleep peacefully knowing that the paper would come out next week.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former professor of political science at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.