Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Press Association vs. Bloggers: Who Needs It?

Ginger Stanley of the VPA.
Ginger Stanley, who is retiring, has been the head of the Virginia Press Association for years and she is now saying alt-media should probably be included in the VPA's membership.

That's about 10 years late, but I'm not sure many of us "alt" types care either way. I certainly don't. We do what we do because we want to, because the words and beliefs are ours and we don't have a daddy figure shaking his finger in our face.

Blogs are not news and I don't believe we bloggers should be part of a news association. Blogs depend on rumor, conjecture, opinion, various biases, first-second-and-third-hand information and a lot of other dynamics newspapers don't get into in their news columns--and shouldn't. But bloggers get stories out that official news-gathering organizations ignore.

A good example locally and recently is my coverage of the Confederate Battle Flag and the Christmas parade in Roanoke. The newspaper and television stations (forget radio, since only PBS is a player here) didn't even know that was an issue until they read it here and then it became a huge issue.

Blogs also serve as a center of criticism for local, state and national media, something that didn't much exist before we did. How much reporting, for example, have you seen on the changes in Roanoke's daily newspaper in that newspaper. Not much. But you learned a lot from the blogs (especially this one).

There are a number of similar local examples over the past few years (Valerie Garner's online local political reporting for Roanoke Free Press has often been the best available), but I think you know that or you wouldn't be reading blogs. Having the VPA give us its stamp of approval might well be the kiss of death to our independence.

I've never much liked press associations and I have been especially annoyed by the VPA since it "misplaced" the Blue Ridge Business Journal's press awards entry two years in a row. I was not in favor of entering the contests (and remain adamantly against press competition), but the publisher insisted, only to see us systematically ignored by a group that thought a tabloid-sized, business centered publication was not legitimate. (Over the years, publications I have edited have won quite a few VPA awards, so it wasn't about not being competitive. I have not personally participated in a long time, even when I was eligible, however.)

Here's what Ginger says about news evolution (according to a piece in Style Weekly in Richmond):
"... News is 24/7 on websites [and] it is being sent to readers via mobile devices. I had one publisher tell me that [he was] tracking how readers were getting their news during the day and the peaks were early morning reading the hard copy. By 9 a.m., they were getting it on their mobile device, whether it was a phone or a tablet. By noon, they were online at work and the peak was reading the newspaper online at work. Once again in the afternoon, their mobile devices were peaking."

She adds, and I totally agree, "We don’t have as many hard copies in circulation at any given time [and it] doesn’t bother me at all because I understand that the way newspapers are being read today is all day long, every day, through many different forums."

I have talked to college journalism students for years about the fact that newspapers drying up doesn't mean journalism is dying. It is not. Newspapers/magazines/TV/the web/radio/pigeons/tin cans with string are the delivery systems, not the message. You note that people are reading news all day--in all its forms--so journalism and even my kind of blogging (which I do not practice when I am being a journalist for pay) are an integral part of the message.

Ginger insists that the VPA has been responsive to non-daily/weekly newspapers and that it has included online publications (separate membership), free distribution publications and even freelance reporters in membership. "So," she says, "I think the next category will probably be bloggers. And this is something that the board will explore and look at because I think Virginia’s press has been very open to change and inclusion, and I see that down the road."

But, as I say, I'd just as soon the VPA left us alone. We don't need it nearly as much as it needs us.

(Photo: Scott Elmquist in Style Weekly.)

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