David Shaw of the LA Times wants to know:
- If you think about the 10 or 15 things you absolutely have to do today, and the various decisions you have to make about them, how helpful would you say your daily newspaper is likely to be in any of those endeavors? My guess is you’d say, “Not very” — no matter what paper you read.
“We have become disturbingly disconnected from average Americans,” says Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, “from their most basic concerns about getting by day to day, paying the bills, educating the kids, holding together marriages, making it through work.”
In large part, that’s because journalists define news as a departure from the norm — something new, different, sensational, spectacular, terrible, tragic, triumphant, scandalous — and they haven’t figured out how to stretch that definition to include the everyday. But the norm (driving through traffic, interacting with office colleagues, disciplining children) defines many people’s daily lives.
That doesn’t mean newspapers should ape the news-you-can-use approach of local television news. Most people buy a daily newspaper because they’re interested in what’s happening in the world at large — especially when, as now, much of what’s happening is confusing, even frightening. People want help making sense of the day’s events.
How to do that? As far as I can tell, view the events of the world through a local prism:
- “Many papers that have tried to be relevant have mistakenly interpreted ‘relevance’ as only what happens within a 20-square-mile radius of the office or as something very practical and direct — where to buy a pillow, how to lose 20 pounds in the next two weeks or what to cook for dinner tonight,” says Sandra Mims Rowe, the editor of the Portland Oregonian.
“Those are all relevant to people’s lives, but relevance and what is useful also has a much broader definition and involves more complexity and depth and understanding,” she says.
Rowe and the Oregonian have been ambitious. Three years ago, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize for reporter Richard Read’s pursuit of a single lot of potatoes from a processing plant in Oregon back to the growers and then on to Singapore, where it went to a McDonald’s. The Pulitzer board praised Read for “vividly illustrating the domestic impact of the Asian economic crisis,” and Rowe says his account “couldn’t have been any more relevant, any more important, to our readers.”
No mention is made in the article of dead tree vs online newspaper reading, which has become a critical aspect of newspaper readership. Does the fact that online readership is not limited by geography change coverage in any way? I would have liked to see Shaw at least address this issue.
I read the Plain Dealer for sports coverage, some for local arts, entertainment and media, occasionally for area politics, and to keep an eye on my friends and acquaintances. That’s about it.