Sunday, May 24, 2009

Today's Lesson: The Daily Newspaper's Alive and Thriving! Well. It is. Sort of ...

Alternate use for your daily newspaper, No. 1>

Looks like Roanoke Times Executive Editor Carole Tarrant and I are talking to different people. Her bouncy little missive this a.m.--which I won't link to, since everybody already reads it--tells us just how marvelous it is to be a daily newspaper in this part of Virginia these days. While her peeps are telling her they can't live without a daily dose of The Times, I'm hearing words like "irrelevant," "dead," "out of touch," "arrogant," "uncaring" and others we won't go into.

She seems to be basing her argument for the value of newspapers on the movie "State of Play," which, from my viewing, has as much to do with the operation of today's newspaper as "Angels and Demons" has to do with papal ascension. (It's an entertaining movie, though, unlike "All the President's Men," which was certainly more accurate.)

'Course, I don't suppose you would expect anything else from Ms. Tarrant, since selling papers is her job, but when she claims a daily audience of 245,000, including online followers, I have to smile. Is that total eyes, fingers and toes? When she says the RT is planning an e-paper--"a digital replica," for a fee--I have to wonder why, if all those eyes, toes and fingers are captured already. Ad revenues must be through the roof with that level of dominance.

She stressed the "staff of more than 100 journalists"* (some disguised as empty seats) and a "continued" emphasis on "community news and enterprise reporting." She wrote:"We merged the main and Virginia sections Monday through Saturday, yielding a substantial newsprint savings [yay, environment!] with little impact to our news content. We also furloughed employees for five days."

Her own local reporters bemoan on a daily basis the shrinking news hole that allows fewer and shorter stories. She talks of "bringing you in-depth stories before anyone else," oh, like say the "Must-see TV" story that everybody in civilization had before the RT recently--and it happened three blocks from the RT's front door.

And there's the matter of all those veteran reporters who have left--some as "volunteer" retirees (you take the retirement or take your chances on getting fired without it; logic and history favored the former)--at least one excellent reporter asked to leave without explanation ("this is not a discussion") and others just too exasperated and tired to stick it out, hoping for a change at the top.

Tarrant's is an interesting little cheerleading interlude. We'll see how it plays as we move toward a different delivery system for journalism.

(* A little story: A few years ago, when I was editor of the Blue Ridge Business Journal, a Times editor stopped me on the street and said, "Man, I wish we could do some of the stories y'all are doing." "Why don't you," I asked. "We don't have the resources," the Times editor said. At the time, we had one full-time editorial employee.)


  1. When I read that column in today's RT, I thought maybe it was satire. And I did find amusing the misplaced participial phrase in the second sentence.

    "More than a hundred journalists"? (I wonder how many have degrees in journalism or related fields?) With that many, uh, journalists, why isn't there more actual content and fewer huge pictures—not to mention fewer grammatical errors?

    I've been reading the Roanoke Times (or the old Roanoke World-News) for a half-century. I can remember when the paper was content rich and the stories well-written.

    I used to spend most of a Sunday morning reading the paper; I finished this morning's RT in 20 minutes.

  2. Becky Mushko of Franklin County is a busy local writer who most recently has been teaching a class (with some colleagues) on self-publishing.

  3. Becky, Dan,

    You frequently criticize The Roanoke Times, but offer little in the way of what it is you think they should be doing better. Care to offer suggestions?

    I, too, often find The Roanoke Times going downhill (though they're still, by far, the best news source in the valley - prove me wrong). But your entries, like this one, aren't doing much good in the way of stimulating a real change. But perhaps you're not after that. You're just after a grudge for being treated poorly in your time at their sister paper.