Guy W. Farmer: A world without newspapers
July 20, 2018
As an old Newspaper Guy who has been writing for the Appeal for more than 20 years, I was deeply saddened, even gobsmacked, when the Sierra Nevada Media Group (SNMG) decided to downsize the Appeal and other Swift newspapers in Northern Nevada and around Lake Tahoe.
Although I understand the reasons for this difficult decision, I'm having trouble coming to grips with the concept of a world without print newspapers, as we've known them through the years, and I never thought I'd live to see our historic state capital without a daily print newspaper. But now that day has arrived and those of us in the last newspaper reading generation — much of the core readership of the Appeal, in my opinion — must learn to live with this new reality in Media World.
SNMG Publisher Michael "Mick" Raher, a likeable Aussie, explained the corporate decision like this: "Consumer behavior has changed, people's faith in media has been called into question, advertisers have legions of options … and the industry now faces stiff tariffs on newsprint, our second largest expense item … I know you are frustrated, maybe even disappointed. We are too."
Fair enough, Mick, and I take you at your word when you promise "quality over quantity" in local news coverage, which is the heart and soul of a community newspaper. I know you must balance quality journalism with the need to generate advertising dollars in order to keep SNMG in the black, and wish you success in meeting that bottom line challenge.
The Associated Press reported last week because of President Trump's tariffs on Canadian newsprint, "Newspapers … are in danger of reducing news coverage, laying off workers or going out of business." Sound familiar?
Frankly, I worry about whether the Appeal has enough bonafide journalists to cover local news, which is its most important product. I also hope SNMG execs and my hard-working friend, Appeal Editor Adam Trumble, will minimize publication of "puff pieces," also known as "advertorials" (advertising disguised as news), written by PR people to extol the virtues of their companies and/or organizations. In other words, it's important to maintain a healthy degree of separation between the newsroom and the advertising department. But you already knew that, right?
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I agreed with you, Adam, when you wrote you must make lemonade when life gives you lemons, and admire your continuing commitment to quality journalism. Nevertheless, Deputy Editor Charles Whisnand spoke for me and many longtime Appeal readers when he wrote "it's a shame the Nevada state capital … won't have a daily newspaper," adding "Carson City lost a little freedom (and) a little democracy" when SNMG cut back on print journalism. Amen!
One of my University of Washington journalism professors, Dr. Henry Ladd Smith, authored a popular textbook titled "The Press in America" in which he described newspapers as "the backbone of democracy." I think that's still true today despite stiff competition from other forms of mass media including radio, TV and Internet news sites full of "fake news" — not Trump's fake news world where news media are "the enemy," but in our real media world filled with too much erroneous and politically tainted reporting, thereby blurring the lines between straight news and opinion and violating everything I learned in Journalism 101.
I want to close by thanking my editors and publishers for putting up with me even when they haven't agreed with what I've written, but most of all I thank thousands of loyal readers who have stuck with me through the years. I'm grateful for your continuing support.
Guy W. Farmer has been writing for the Appeal since 1996.