This is something that's been on my mind:
I live in Winston-Salem. I have the Winston-Salem Journal delivered every morning. But I don't feel like I know anyone there. The paper doesn't have a "voice", at least not one that I can hear. The closest thing to its voice is the editor's column in the op-ed section.
In fairness to the Journal I think that the "voice" issue is the same for the vast majority of newspapers. But unfortunately for the Journal they happen to be juxtaposed with the Greensboro News & Record. The N&R is making national (maybe even international) headlines, at least in the publishing sector and the nascent blogosphere, because it is embracing the newest in publishing paradigms: the blog.
At last count the N&R has five blogs: one written by the editor John Robinson, another written by Lex Alexander (I think he's their online guru), another titled Inside Scoop, a sports blog written by multiple sports staffers, and finally The Chalkboard blog which covers local education stories.
I get all of the N&R blogs via RSS. I don't get their paper...yet. But I still feel closer to the N&R, and in a way I feel it is my hometown paper. And I think it's going to eat the Journal's lunch if the folks at the Journal don't act fast. Here's why:
1. Via it's blogs the N&R has been getting direct feedback from it's audience (notice I didn't say readers) about how they would like to see their "paper" evolve in the future. The N&R is doing a fantastic job of helping their audience take ownership of the paper. This is huge because...
2. Paper circulation is on its last legs as the defining metric for local newspaper companies. They are going to have to morph to survive; there will probably be paper for the foreseeable future, but it's role as the core entity for the company is declining rapidly. To morph the newspaper needs to know what it's audience wants and then create it. N&R is doing that, and in the process they are replacing the monologue with a dialogue.
3. N&R already owns two thirds of the Piedmont Triad region (Greensboro & High Point). Denizens of Winston-Salem see themselves as quite distinct from the denizens of Greensboro, which is very similar to the attitude of Northern Virginians to Suburban Marylanders in the D.C. area that I recently fled. Anyway, it would probably pain the editor at the Journal (I have no idea what his/her name is) to know that I feel like I'm on a first name basis with the editor of the Greensboro News & Record (Hi John!). If I happen across a hot story or issue, who do you think I'm going to ping with it?
4. The future for newspapers is integrated media. I have no idea what the mix will be, but it's going to be some combination of paper, internet, video, audio and interactive media.
My brother works for a major newspaper publishing company and he pointed out to me years ago that the real money for community papers is in classifieds. At the time his company wasn't too worried about the internet because it was a glogal entity. Enter Craigs List. Oops.
My point is that newspapers are sitting on the cusp of something big and they will either thrive or die. Right now they still own a healthy part of the audience, but they need only look at their declining circulation to know that the audience share is shrinking. They have to act now. N&R is doing that, and they are doing it right.
5. Last point. I hear from the N&R several times every day, all via their blogs. I hear from the Journal in the morning and that's it. I used to check their website for updates, but rarely saw them. (Honestly their site stinks). As a result I know more about Greensboro's city council than I do about Winston-Salem's.
So for now I'd say that the N&R is my hometown paper. It's not too late for the Journal, but they better act fast or it will be. I'd love to write the editor and share some ideas...anybody have a name for me?