Drinking in what journalism is about
Editors and publishers from across the state gathered last week for the first time in two years to share experiences and honor the best in state journalism.
We were gratified to come away with literally a boxful of awards — 40 in all, including first place for overall news and writing excellence, best front page, best editorial page, design and layout excellence, and best special news section (Explore). We also won first place for best investigative, agricultural, religion, and education stories and for best automotive, furniture, hardware, and professional services ads.
We swept first, second, and third in the hardware category and also won second or third for education, health, and religion stories and for professional services ads in addition to 21 other awards.
It was particularly heartening that every member of our staff won at least one award in a competition that had us going up not just against other mid-size weeklies. In our same division were the main newspapers in Dodge City, El Dorado, Emporia, Iola, McPherson, Newton, and Wellington, among others.
Although they may publish more often, papers like these have more time to produce showcase entries because they fill most their issues with news from wire services.
A familiar theme at the convention was how local newspapers frequently aren’t appreciated in their hometowns. One publisher suggested buying each of his paper’s readers a subscription to a paper from another area so readers could see the difference.
Lamented by nearly all the editors and publishers was how secretive government has become, with governing bodies continually meeting behind closed doors about issues the public has a right to know and police censoring crime reports despite clear legal opinions that they should not. Newspapers can’t even report most traffic fines anymore because government recordkeeping systems created via lucrative sweetheart deals don’t allow it.
Most discussion focused on the decline of urban newspapers, which have been hard hit by the economy, by wheeling and dealing among mega-corporate owners, and by changing ways in which regional, national, and international news is disseminated.
Rural newspapers have been less affected but still have to worry about inability to attract workers, declines in population, dwindling numbers of locally owned businesses that support local news as a public service, and increasingly shady and unprofessional practices by social media.
A college professor — not the former one whose words you are now reading — showed up to supposedly save the day, as professors (current and former) often feel they can do. Her solution was to greatly increase subscription prices and tie them to social opportunities.
Paying double the normal subscription rate would entitle “Press Club” subscribers to attend free monthly beer bashes the newspaper would sponsor.
We admit that subscribers pay for only 20% of the cost of producing a newspaper. Without advertising, the $1 paper you hold in your hand would cost $5. We also aren’t about to criticize such events such as Chingawassa Days for selling $3 cans of beer to make sure they break even.
But when we see just how many violent crimes and incidents of domestic violence are related to drinking, we get more than a bit squeamish about trying to run not only newspapers but also beer joints, of which there seem to be no shortage.
We also worry about whether Press Club members would expect special treatment in the form of favorable coverage for their businesses and cover-ups of misdeeds or negative developments affecting them.
Our cost to mail the paper will increase 8.5% next month. Printing costs are sure to rise, as well, and already have risen dramatically for many other papers. We also have to worry about the few community-minded local businesses that remain being snowed by sales pitches from social media, trinket sellers, and others.
But we have what unfortunately seems to be a novel solution to the problems of rural newspapers — more aggressive news coverage and more effectively designed advertising.
We’re staking our fate on quality, not on being cheap and gimmicky. Read us with a can of brew if you want, but we’re going to concentrate on serving up not alcohol but news and serving advertisers who support the notion of preventing the area from becoming a news “desert,” where the only voices heard are those of scheming officials and screaming trolls.
We think democracy demands nothing less.
— ERIC MEYER