Lloyd Omdahl: Mayor, saving newspaper is your job
Mr. Mayor, the crisis has moved from the print shop to your office because this is no longer a private enterprise issue. It is a school issue; it is a community issue.
Daily papers are cutting corners and weekly newspapers are dying.
A couple more North Dakota weekly newspapers are now on the chopping block, suffering from the same changes facing the dailies. Higher costs, less advertising, fewer subscriptions.
While these factors are killing weeklies, the dailies are reducing their print editions and going electronic, causing wailing and gnashing of teeth among the readers. For dailies, it may be a slow death, but for weeklies, death is sudden.
It’s a community issue
Mr. Mayor, the crisis has moved from the print shop to your office because this is no longer a private enterprise issue. It is a school issue; it is a community issue. It is an issue over which you should be concerned because people rightfully expect the buck to stop in your office.
The issue is no longer “live or die” in the economic system. It is a public issue that requires a public response.
When your newspaper goes under, you – and the community – will feel a devastating impact on schools, sports, businesses, churches and local information. There will be a vacuum in your town.
If you let your newspaper shrink (dailies), or die (weeklies), it will be an admission that your town is slipping away. Community life is worth saving.
Cutting school activities
Whether or not dailies have been cutting back on coverage of grade and high school activities, I do not have personal knowledge. Newspaper coverage may not be important to some in town but it is the time of their lives for students and they are entitled to recognition for the many activities that constitute growing up in a supportive community.
When your newspaper folds, you will exclaim “if I had only known,” something we tell ourselves to avoid guilt for not acting when action could have changed the outcome. I’m telling you now, Mayor, so you won’t have an alibi.
The first step would be an honest conversation with the newspaper over the areas of difficulty and then develop a work plan. The conversation must be based on what can be done for the public good and not a charity for a struggling business. In reality, the community needs the newspaper more than the editor. This is for community benefits received.
Idea for staffing
Daily and weekly newspapers have a common problem: staff. Because the economy has forced them to cut back on staff, many photos are not taken and many events are not reported.
Writing in The Conversation, Professor Lara Salahi of Georgia State recently proposed using college students as reporters. With our abundance of institutions in North Dakota, every major city newspaper would be in position to take advantage of such help.
Universities would have to make one or two curriculum changes and give students credit for learning to write.
You may think that is funny but it is not.
When I taught at UND, we were told to write across the curriculum. In other words, make the students write more. I didn’t let students take their writing assignments home because I would never have known who really did the writing. So I made them write in class.
Students need writing
I was shocked. Half of the students from large and small schools alike couldn’t write a complete sentence or spell properly. It was obvious; they need writing. So stories for the local paper would kill two birds with one stone.
For the towns without colleges, Professor Salahi’s suggestion could be applied to high schools where competent students could sharpen their writing skills and get credit. I was a reporter at age 15.
Mr. Mayor, just getting universities or high schools to participate would be a significant accomplishment. You could sleep peacefully knowing that the paper would be out next week.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.