This week what my local (Eugene, Oregon) newspaper is doing with an iPad app makes me feel better about the future of journalism in the new online age.
I’ve got a newspaper habit. I begin my day with the local paper. While I make my coffee and gather a breakfast, a browse the headlines, and read the stories that appeal to me.
So what’s changed? This morning instead of going downstairs and grabbing the paper outside of my front door, I turned to my iPad beside my bed and had the paper in front of me five minutes earlier, and in a much more convenient format.
The app itself isn’t the news. It does about the same thing the majors (New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, etc.) do: it puts the paper in its real layout onto my iPad. I can scroll around the page with my finger, pinch it to enlarge portions, tap an arrow to go to the next section.
What is a big deal, to me, is that this is a local paper. My local newspaper, the Register Guard. In a town of about 150,000, in a metropolitan area of about 250,000 maximum. And its iPad app. And it is covering local news, as you can see in the illustration: That day’s front page included a governor’s visit to local schools. I would not have gotten that news from any of the majors.
Why do I care? Precisely because it’s not one of the majors. It’s a local newspaper. Its very existence solves some of my long-term concerns:
- I’ve worried that people think social media somehow replaces journalism. Bad idea. Useful for breaking news, of course (there are lots of examples). But investigative journalism? No. Local news? No.
- I’ve worried that major nationwide media (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Huffington Post) unintentionally overwhelm the economics local coverage.
- I’ve worried that the advertising model, particularly the classifieds, is threatened by the efficiency and functionality of online ads. And Craig’s List and friends.
- And I’ve worried that investigative journalism, valuable as it is, is hard to do, takes training and experience, and doesn’t happen with the economics of social media. Huffington and NYTimes and friends will hold that up for major issues, but not for local.
They — the owners of the local paper — do charge money for it. The iPad edition is $1.99 per week as an introductory price, and free to subscribers of the physical paper, who pay $16.50 per month. That seems perfectly fair to me. In fact, I approve, because I want them to make enough money to stay in business. And if I subscribe to just the iPad version, it’s cheaper than the physical newspaper. If it were just me, I’d be iPad-only, but I’m not the only newspaper reader in my household.
So this is good news. And with this development, it looks like maybe local coverage in our area will continue even as newsprint becomes scarce and expensive and the physical paper dies out. For more on that local stuff, the illustration below shows the front page of the regional/local section, which is all local news. So there is hope.
I just posted Y’want Jobs? Small business? Then fund Education on the Huffington Post. I didn’t mention in that post how angry I am at the local schools problem, starting with our public schools in Eugene OR but including the funding-the-school disaster all over Oregon, California, and, as far as I know, most of the United States.
The Eugene town council met last Monday asking for public input. The public schools face a budget deficit of something like $30 million out of something like $130 million. They’re thinking of creating a city income tax to help.
Budget problems aren’t new here. They’ve already cut kindergarten to 10 hours a week. They’ve reduced school days to 168.5. But that was before the big cuts they’re looking at now.
We should know better. This is a university town. The largest employer is the University of Oregon.
This isn’t just us, this one town in Oregon. Apparently all of Oregon and California as well are locked into state constitutional provisions, created in a burst of public selfishness in the early 1990s, that cripple funding of the schools (Prop 13 in California, Measure 5 in Oregon). I assume that’s happening in most states.
Also, some say public schools are overburdened with higher-than-market compensation and retirement plans that make what spending they are able to do less effective.
Can both of these assertions be true? Does cutting spending on schools make them better, forcing them to spend more effectively? Or does it just make them worse?
On the post at Huffington I quoted Kevin Swan’s Entrepreneurship is a Passion, Not a Program, and Vivek Wadhwa’s A Better Formula: Connecting Risk Takers. They’re both writing about how governments can promote entrepreneurship and small business. Vivek concludes:
There is nothing to prevent there being many Silicon Valleys and nothing to stop most regions in the world from innovating. The focus just has to change from investing in real estate to investing in people.
So how do we invest in people? Education, perhaps?
With all the political posturing about small business, there’s not much governments can really do. Education is something they can do. And something that, frankly, they aren’t doing.