Saturday, June 19, 2010

Newspapers Aren't Going Away! Gary Metro Said So!

Gary Metro’s assurance that we will have newspapers to hold in our hands at the breakfast table for the foreseeable future was such good news that I thought it deserved its own headline and blog. Metro, editor of our regional The Southern Illinoisan since January 2007, gave a personal look back on the changing newspaper industry and an optimistic prediction for the future at Thursday night’s Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting.

He pointed out that of the 1400 daily newspapers in the country, only 11% had failed. He said a much higher percentage of super markets fail than that, but we don’t see the media coverage predicting the demise of super markets. His theory was that the newspapers’ competitors in the radio/television industries want a greater slice of the advertising available and, thus, they are quick and noisy to publicize and lament over the dying newspaper trend. He does admit that many cities, such as Chicago with The Tribune in bankruptcy, can no longer keep two newspapers in town, but he doesn’t see the need for competing news in one city. (I’m not sure I completely agree with that, but certainly that’s the way the trend is going and one of the reasons “the dying newspaper industry” is a hot topic right now.)

Enthusiastic about online newspaper publishing, Metro sees the new business model for newspapers as not just a print newspaper but as a media company. He held up a copy of the main paper and also copies of two niche publications—Southern Business Journal and SI Magazine. And then he displayed a book recently published and made available by his newspaper. Web only content is an important part of that model.

He has seen the newspapers’ presence online grow, and he has been a part of that growth making sure something is added to The Southern’s website every hour. Online advertising is a greater source of income for his paper than the print edition. He wants reporters who can do it all—write, photograph, and have competence with the Internet. He foresees newspapers soon providing their news to smart phones. He claims his paper now reaches 75% of this region’s population and thus greatly out does the performance of other media. He knows no one can predict the future with certainty, but he believes newspapers have a bright future.

Metro was first published in his school newspaper at age 7, and he has the clipping his late mother saved to prove it. He wrote for his high school and college papers, but did not think about journalism as a profession until some of his college writing sent off unbeknownst to him by his sponsor received awards.

Graduating in depressed times, no one was hiring at many newspapers. After working in another vocation in his hometown of Rockford while he sent out resumes to papers within a l00 or so mile radius, he finally landed a job in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, south of Milwaukee, at The Northwestern. Like all journalists then, he used a typewriter, and the paper used hot metal typesetting. Later there was photo typesetting and now computerized typesetting. As a journalist, he has seen the constant changes in newspaper going from mechanical age to the digital information age. He held up an early newspaper almost double in width in comparison to our current Southern Illinoisan.

He had worked as editor or managing editor of papers in Racine, Wisconsin; Mason City, Iowa; and more recently at The Times of Northwestern Indiana at Munster. This south side of Chicago paper had eight different editions as well as web only content.

I hope Metro is right that newspapers will successfully adjust just as they did to radio, news films at the movies, television, and now the Internet. And I hope this adjustment includes accurate and thorough reporting by highly educated reporters that have the scientific, economic, and technical knowledge we need to survive in this century.

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