In the 1920s, radio was going to be the death of newspapers.
In the 1940s, television newscasts were going to kill off newspapers.
In the 1980s, USA Today was going to become the nation’s newspaper and once again be the death blow to community newspapers.
In the 1990s, Al Gore’s invention was going to end print as we know it.
Newspapers are still here.
In 1979, The Buggles released “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the song that became legendary as the first music video launching MTV at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1981, was supposed to change the face of music forever.
Radio stars are still here after more than 30 years.
Despite iPads, iPods, streaming video, music websites, television and an MTV that now is mostly just reality TV, video has not killed the radio star.
Radio, television, USA Today and Al Gore’s invention have not killed newspapers.
At least, they have not killed real, bonafide, community newspapers.
There is nothing quite like a cool morning, hot cup of coffee and a real, ink and paper, newspaper.
The community newspaper sky is not falling.
If community newspapers continue to do what newspapers do well, the sky will not fall anytime soon.
Newspapers get into trouble when they stop being what made them great to begin with.
Newspapers have not lost readers because of radio, television, USA Today or Al Gore’s invention.
They have lost readers because they have stopped being good newspapers.
Parents of children who grew up on television lamented that their children would never become book readers and newspaper readers.
In fact, it is likely that every generation has said something similar about successive generations.
Every time they have been wrong.
Think about it.
People who are now middle-aged, largely did not read newspapers in their teens and early 20s.
They began reading newspapers when they got married, had children and their children’s names started appearing on the school honor roll, in the local newspaper. Then, when their child was in the school play, they got the local newspapers to look for pictures of the play. When they got involved in their communities and joined the Chamber of Commerce, they made sure they got the newspaper to see their faces in the background of a photo of a new business ribbon cutting.
When they purchased a home and started worrying about property taxes, they started reading coverage of the county commission deliberations on the local tax levy, in the local newspaper.
The question is not whether or not children who grew up on Al Gore’s invention will ever dare to pick up the printed page with a cup of coffee. The question is whether or not the local newspaper will continue doing the things that good local newspapers do in order to motivate them to pick it up.
You can’t cut out Al Gore’s invention and put it on the refrigerator door with a magnet after your son scores the winning touchdown and gets on the front page of the sports section or after your daughter wins the school talent show and is featured in the lifestyles section.
Newspapers will fail when they fail to do what community newspapers do best.
Yes, large metro-daily newspapers have lost market share, lost advertising revenue and lost readers. There is no hiding that fact.
However, they have also lost focus.
The have lost readers because they have lost their way.
They fill their pages with things that are easily found elsewhere.
They fill their pages with the retelling of things their audience has already seen on television.
They fill their pages with things that are easily accessible on Al Gore’s invention.
A community newspaper must first and foremost be about community.
A great community newspaper will always be the leading source of information for and about the community it serves.
It will contain great local content. It will cover local politics and uncover local corruption. It will provide great, vibrant and positive coverage of local schools, churches and businesses. It will have a voice and cause people to stand up and take notice with strong local editorials focusing exclusively on local issues.
The three things that are the most important ingredients of a great newspaper are, in this order: local, local and local.
As we recognize National Newspaper Week this week, we are proud to continue being your local, community newspaper.
— Editor Jim Zachary