On the Future Of Newspapers

From The Falls Church News-Press:

“The internet dissected your daily newspaper into its constituent parts, letting readers find the news they want without ever buying a paper or visiting a homepage – and handing the most lucrative part…, the advertising business, to companies such as Meta and Google that don’t produce news.”

In one succinct sentence, Washington Post opinion writer Megan McArdle told just about the whole story of the demise of local news in her column entitled, “The Great Age of Cord Cutting is Approaching Its End” published in the Post this Tuesday.

Our founder, owner and editor Nicholas F. Benton will be addressing the monthly luncheon meeting of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce on just this reality, its implications and what can be done about it this coming Tuesday, February 20, at the Italian Cafe in Falls Church. He will bring his more than 33 years of experience making the Falls Church News-Press work for more than 1,700 consecutive weekly editions delivered to every household in The Little City to bear on this question that is vital to our democracy.
The landscape for local news in Northern Virginia has changed dramatically over those more than three decades, and the News-Press has endured to become just about the only general news source in the region that still comes out in print.

How to understand what that means for the community it serves, and for those who have lost such a benefit over the years, as well as how and what needs to happen to ensure it continues to get done will be our editor’s subject. The new book, “Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press,” by the late Charlie Clark, will be available for sale as a resource at the talk, which will also be recorded.

A good newspaper is more than just a chronicle of events in a community, but serves as a vital glue for the components that not only make up, but also seek to advance a community’s ability to provide for its public’s needs, especially as they involve core human and democratic values. For Mr. Benton, this has taken the form of continually shining a light on the community needs for, among other things, smart development, affordable housing and above all education of the young.

The internet and strictly digital sources have unwittingly contributed to the undermining of this approach by shattering information into countless discrete categories, thus disabling the ability of a community’s citizens to function from the standpoint of an overview of these combined values and needs.

Benton and the News-Press since its founding in 1991 have operated from the standpoint of advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and that has meant promoting education for the young by encouraging the kind of economic development that can pay for a quality educational system. It has meant taking sides in opposition to those who resist such developments for selfish reasons, be they big corporate interests or citizens against constructive change.

Link to the rest at The Falls Church News-Press

When PG was in high school, he was the high school sports reporter (and the only sports reporter) for a very small local newspaper that was mimeographed weekly and delivered free to all the mailboxes in town and the surrounding area.

He saw no conflict of interest in writing about games in which he had participated. However, he seldom mentioned his name, in large part because he was not a particularly outstanding player, even on teams comprised of small, slow white boys with a smattering of members of the local Sioux tribe.

As humble as it was, the newspaper, along with school activities, was about all that made the little town a community. When the local schools were closed and students were bussed to schools in a larger nearby town a few years after PG graduated, that little town began to lose population and has continued to decline into just a group of run-down and unoccupied houses.

PG never heard what happened to the lady who ran the newspaper.

5 thoughts on “On the Future Of Newspapers”

  1. There is a need for information about public activities – volunteer, government, charities, schools – but that can’t be adequately handled by the websites of the people in that organization.
    Substack has a model that works – small monthly amounts (as of now, $2/month is the minimum) – of targeted posts that offer independent reporting and commentary. There is a real need for people to make the rounds of their community organizations and gather the news, posting updates on events, both before and after, attending public meetings and reporting on discussions and questions, and otherwise replacing the no-longer-needed paper newspapers.
    A person wouldn’t need too many subscriptions to make it worth their while. Many people would be happy to volunteer as stringers.

  2. Absolutely! I’ve lived in the area since 1995. There actually isn’t a local paper (except in some communities like Falls Church and Alexandria), like in other areas. We get the Washington Post and the Washington Times, both of which cover the major political news.

    The Washington Times used to have a section that talked about the Civil War history. I think there was a column on gaming, too, and reviews of locals wines, movie reviews. The Washington Post had the style section, which included fashion and food, reviews of museum exhibits from the Smithsonian, movie reviews, the book section. They had a community pullout on Thursdays (still have it, but not what it was). We got an advice column on traffic, called Dr. Gridlock, a veterinarian advice columnist, reports of health inspection closures, and an extensive list of local happenings. This section also featured bigger articles on major events, which could range from the Cherry Blossom Parade, to where the best leaf colors could be found, to Halloween, Christmas…you name it. They also used to do a Peep contest every year, where people created amazing dioramas.

    All gone.

    It was sad to watch it disappear bit by bit. But it reminded me a little too much of my days in the military when there were budget cutbacks. They always headed straight for the things that made life better and cut those, just like the newspapers did.

  3. I’m afraid that this shark’s only personal experience with journalism was running a high school underground newspaper during the Ford and Carter administrations (without, that is, a comics section headed by The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, which made it unique among underground newspapers in the region). That was for a high school that had more students than I understand were in PG’s home town.

  4. Founded in 1991?
    That’s the year the internet was opened to the public and it was already part of the mainstream in ’93.
    Doomed from day one, pretty much.
    If anything, they should be happy they’re still around in some form.

  5. Oh, dear. One would expect, though, that most of the residents of NoVa would be upset about any tendency to decentralize the media – alternative views to the orthodoxy are quite scary in those parts.

    (Motorcycles again. Although a couple of my purist friends would be quite upset at the moped in the collection of correct answers.)

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