Friday, March 21, 2008

The Postindustrial Heartland Times

Some Rust Belt newspapers are better than others. Richard Longworth thinks all of them could do a better job of helping their communities deal with globalization and in some cases the sophistication of the readership is the problem:

Unfortunately, even papers that do try to tell this story find their readers in denial. “Every once in a while a paper will rear back and really try to do a job—a big series on economic changes,” Longworth told me. In the last few years, “the Cleveland Plain Dealer did this, with a long series called ‘The Quiet Crisis.’ . . . An editor at the paper told me the series was generally well received, ‘but the two pieces specifically on globalization and immigration landed with a dull thud.’ The Dayton Daily News did a good series, which most of the local leaders seem to have put down as useless negativism. This is a town that has already lost more than half its population.”

Longworth thinks the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel probably leads all midwestern papers at sending reporters overseas to put hometown issues in a global context. The Tribune “has a very good foreign staff,” he told me, “but needs to work harder at linking their stories to readers in Chicago.”

“Newspapers are failing” at their task, Longworth writes, and one reason is a report issued by the “once responsible journalism school at Northwestern University, urging papers to draw readers by stressing local news. . . . All over the Midwest, local news, no matter how trivial, is squeezing out the global coverage that readers need to make sense of their world.”

Longworth goes on to discuss how national and global newspapers now scratch the Midwest's cosmopolitan itch. Local rags do not have the resources to cover everything and there is a demand for a regional perspective on global issues. With all of that in mind, Longworth makes the following recommendation:

“If the Midwest is to act as a region, it needs a trusted publication to set the regional agenda.”

Is anyone planning a paper that would do that? I asked him. “The answer is no,” he replied. “So we’re left to speculate on how one could begin. . . . Here’s a potentially money-making idea. The Tribune could launch a Midwestern newspaper, a sort of regional [Financial Times] that covers both the Midwest and the globe with true quality journalism, and would work hard to link the Midwest to the globe. It would be smaller in size, with considerably higher newsstand and subscription prices, less reliant on advertising, devoid of the kind of Dear Abby features that bring in readers now. . . . This would be an elite paper, sure. But it would inject global knowledge into a region that desperately needs it. And who knows, it might be read by local editors and reporters who could be inspired to do some of the same sort of reporting on their own back yards."

A regional newspaper covering globalization? Sign me up.

1 comment:

Scott said...

It has always amazed me, in a city (Pittsburgh) that is on the verge of bankruptcy, that our sports section is 16+ pages and the business is 4 pages, mostly fluff, with the obits in the middle.

Then again, considering, maybe that's where the obits should be...

Scott