MATTERS AT HAND: Expect Herald to keep publishing on paper
Two decades ago, when I was a newly minted newspaper editor, an officer of Knight Ridder Inc., which owned the Herald at the time, predicted that electronic tablets would replace newspapers within a quarter of a century. Everyone in the room did ...
Two decades ago, when I was a newly minted newspaper editor, an officer of Knight Ridder Inc., which owned the Herald at the time, predicted that electronic tablets would replace newspapers within a quarter of a century. Everyone in the room did a little arithmetic to determine whether we'd still be in the business then.
I came up a few years short. Clearly, I'd be an editor in the new era.
The new era has not developed quite like the prognosticator envisioned, however. It's true that the Internet has changed our lives. I am writing at a desk in Washington, D.C., but I know the temperature in Grand Forks, thanks to a brief visit to the Herald Web site. Attaining this knowledge would have required a telephone call only a decade ago, and a lifetime ago, this kind of instant information wouldn't have been available at all.
The Internet has created connections that couldn't have been sustained earlier. Some of these are to hometowns, of course, and some are to areas of interest. Not all of them are wholesome, but that's a consequence of every advancing technology. What the Internet has not done is destroy newspapers.
Some observers suggest that it's only a matter of time, and plenty of alarmists in our own industry are crying the same tune.
Of course, the demise of the newspaper has been predicted in the past, at least twice. As absurd as it seems today, radio was once regarded as a threat to newspapers. So was television.
To be sure, both radio and television changed newspapers, but the newspaper business is stronger today than either of these broadcast media, partly because both television and radio are transient media. The signal is broadcast and then lost, and likely as not forgotten.
Broadcast suffers from fragmentation, too. There's simply too much out there, and as the number of outlets increases, it becomes more difficult for any outlet to achieve a secure position. The opposite has happened to newspapers, of course. There are only about a third as many daily newspapers now as 50 years ago. Yet, each of these continues to play a unique and vital role. Partly, this is because of the nature of the product. We are bookish people. We value the printed word.
The Internet poses a different kind of challenge. While it is even more diffuse than broadcast, it is also more immediate. While it is highly visual, still it relies on the written word. Newspaper editors face a special challenge because the Internet is an opportunity as well as a threat. With so many channels available - indeed everyone who wishes can create one - the Internet is a risky source of information, and so, the more carefully reported information gathered by newspapers assumes added value.
To take advantage of this value - and to fend off potential competitors - newspapers have mounted Web sites of our own. You can visit ours at www.gfherald.com . These present a great challenge to us, since our culture is to gather all the news we can, then push it out in a big package. The Internet demands on-time and on-the-spot postings.
We get better at this every day, but our Web site, it's fair to say, remains a work in progress. Probably no one appreciates this more than Tom Dutcher, who leads our online efforts.
The Web site won't replace the printed version of the Herald any time soon. A substantial majority of homes in Grand Forks receive the Herald every morning, and these customers want the news delivered on paper.
This circulation base - we call it penetration in the newspaper business - remains the foundation of our business, because no other medium, not radio, television or the Internet, can deliver these readers reliably.
So it's my predication that residents of Grand Forks will be reading the Herald on paper long after my tenure here.