Thursday, March 26, 2009

Here's the Future of Publishing, Simply Put

Community activist Warner Dalhouse>

My friend Warner Dalhouse, a retired banker and uber civic activist, sent a clipping (yes, a real clipping, by postal carrier) yesterday from the NYTimes about a little newspaper in Austin, the Chronicle, that is thriving in the current atmosphere of failure. The reason: it is involved, it is local, it cares. I glommed on to that like gum on the underside of the student desk because our own Valley Business FRONT magazine has basically the same philosophy. And we're not at all shy about stating it publicly as we poke a finger in the eye of the anal retentive newspaper business.

Here's my note back to Warner:

Dear Warner:

I had been referred to the Austin Chronicle piece by about four people before it arrived by traditional carrier from you and now I see why. I really appreciate you taking time to put this together and ship it over.

At the center of the article was this: "... and a willingness to lead, as opposed to simply criticize in artistic matters" and "The Chronicle is knit into the civic and cultural life in Austin to a degree that may make other newspapers nervous." That's our goal, simply and directly stated: to be a part, not just an observer; to be a leader and not a follower.

For far too long newspapers and other local publications have abdicated a responsibility that goes with publishing to be at the center of their communities; helping to create a more livable locality; being involved on boards and commissions, Little League teams and Little Theater, Moose and Kiwanis, Earth Day and St. Patrick's Day. At The Times, we were discouraged and even prohibited from taking active parts in activities like the Raleigh Court Civic League or the Virginia Museum of Transportation (Pulitzer winner Mary Bishop was once prohibited from having one of her stories published in a book I put together for the benefit of the transportation museum because "you might have to cover them some day").

If we aren't part of the community, we have no authority to report on it. I believe that strongly and without reservation. I am, of course, altered by participation, no doubt about it. I develop loyalties to people I know and understand and my reporting is not always detached. I would have had a difficult time, for example, reporting on Alfred Dowe, a guy I liked and respected--and still do. (He made a mistake that was far, far cleaner than some I've made.)

Anyhow, thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this. Our little publication is a look into the future whether the newspaper business is ready for it or not. And I like what I see.



  1. Dan, your perspective on this is on target, as usual. Unbiased reporting is overrated. Everyone is biased, and even moreso for people who care.

    If you live in a neighborhood with real neighbors, have kids in local schools, are passionate about a religious community (or not), and love your city and its leaders (or not), objectivity is a myth.

    Be subjective. Be involved. Be a community.

    And, thanks to Dan, for your unique, local, involved perspective.

    Chad Braby
    VP - Greater Raleigh Court Civic League

  2. Chad:

    I suspect that, like me, you are a member of the Greater Raleigh Court Civic League. Thank you for your comment.