How much smaller and more pathetic can Salem's so-called "community newspaper" get? I suppose it can shrink to almost zero on the Journalistic Quality scale and still keep on publishing.
But what's the point of that? In The Incredible Shrinking Man movie...
Scott accepts his fate and is resigned to the adventure of seeing what awaits him in even smaller realms. He knows he will eventually shrink to atomic size; but, no matter how small he becomes, he concludes he will still matter in the universe because, to God, "there is no zero." This thought gives him comfort and ends his fears of the future.
OK, this could be what Gannett, which owns and runs the Statesman Journal from afar, is intending for my hometown newspaper: become a journalistic speck with a tiny bit of utility, perhaps only to add a small amount to the parent corporation's bottom line.
However, this prospect is sad to long-time subscribers like me, who remember how much better the Statesman Journal used to be.
Now the paper has almost completely given up on covering significant local news. We get crime stories, human interest stories, and not much else. Consider these recent examples of what subscribers to the Statesman Journal are missing:
-- Next Monday a Salem City Council subcommittee is expected to decide where a new block-sized, $50 million plus police facility should be located. Nothing about this in the paper.
-- Last week the City Council rejected a staff proposal to buy up property for a Salem River Crossing right of way in the Highland neighborhood, a big setback for those who dream of inflicting an unneeded billion dollar 3rd Bridge on Salem citizens. Nothing about this in the paper.
-- At the same City Council meeting, a large group of downtown residents clamored for an end to train horns being blown in the area. As a result, a quiet zone is in the works, showing how more people living downtown is changing the "political" landscape in Salem. Nothing about this in the paper.
Instead, last Sunday there was a lengthy front page story about devotees of a fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering. To date there are zero comments on the story, which goes to show that while this is a mildly interesting subject, hardly anybody cares much about it.
Some newspapers aren't willing to go silently into the depths of journalistic near-nothingness, unlike the Statesman Journal. In "Two Visions for Successful News Outlets," there's advice for how this can be done.
Philadelphia’s newspapers are entering the uncharted territory of nonprofit ownership. Meanwhile, journalist-turned-entrepreneur Steve Brill says newspapers are clueless about paywalls and generating the content readers will pay to read.
For Portlanders, both trends may seem like more promising options than witnessing the slow shrinkage of The Oregonian.
...Brill cited an example of a Montana newspaper with a successful paywall. "They were covering the local school board, local politics, local sports – and people wanted to buy it,” he said.
Categorizing newspaper owners as something less than “swashbucklers,” Brill predicts, "Some smart venture capitalist is going to bottom feed a large company and bring in people who do it right. That means beefing up the website, making it the place for information and news in a community and getting people to log in so often, you will be able to get by with only printing, say, once a week, maybe on Sunday. And online will be a seven-day-a-week product that everybody will be happy with and will be self-sustaining.”
...Brill believes investigative journalism is key to paid content, though he concedes readers are unlikely to be willing to pay its full cost.
I've noticed that "Local First" no longer appears on the Statesman Journal masthead. At least this is honest. There's no commitment to covering substantive Salem news anymore; no commitment to investigative reporting; no in-depth coverage of important local issues.
I used to care enough about this to regularly write Statesman Journal publisher Terry Horne, executive editor Michael Davis, and editorial page editor Dick Hughes, talking about my concerns.
Now, I don't.
My caring is limited to writing blog post rants like this one. I've given up urging Statesman Journal staff to improve the quality of the newspaper I've subscribed to for 38 years, because it's obvious they aren't interested in hearing what readers have to say.
This should concern Statesman Journal executives even more than my criticisms of them and their newspaper. When something becomes irrelevant, not even worth the trouble of complaining about, this is a bad survival sign.
It used to be that citizen activists like me cared about getting newspaper coverage for their causes, along with supportive editorials. But these days the reach of Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other social media outlets allow activists to reach people directly.
The old days of newspaper dominance obviously are gone. Rarely do people say to me, "You've got to read this story in the Statesman Journal." Much more likely is, "Check out this post on Facebook."
The times are changing. Salem's community newspaper isn't adapting well to those changes. The Statesman Journal apparently believes that giving readers frothy content -- the newspaper equivalent of cute kitten videos -- will be enough to keep the paper relevant.
I don't think so.
I can get all the frothy insubstantial "news" I want online. For freaking free.
If a newspaper wants to justify its subscription price, which just increased for the Statesman Journal, it had better provide stimulating, important, significant local news that isn't available anywhere else. So far, this isn't happening.