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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Newspaper Death Watch

Posted 1/12/16 (Tue)

I doubt very many people in the western part of North Dakota read the Grand Forks Herald, at least not daily.

Regardless, there was a recent article in the Herald about the UND newspaper the Dakota Student.

Alexander Bertsch, the editor at UND, was interviewed and the angle of the story wasn’t a pleasant one.

He talked of how he saw a 12-page paper shrink to eight pages because of a lack of ad revenue. In fact, UND reported that the ad revenue at the Dakota Student has dropped 33 percent in the past 10 years.

In the professional world, it’s no secret that newspapers have been slipping in ad revenue primarily because of competition from Internet, but they’ve remained a strong medium for most local communities.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver was a good example of a large paper folding because TV and Internet began to fill that void in central Colorado. But if you ever read the Denver Post, that has always been a strong paper and survived the competition.

But something like that should be irrelevant in a college newspaper. The Dakota Student doesn’t compete with the Grand Forks Herald or WDAZ-TV, but does contend with Studio 1, a TV program that mimics a TV news set and presents UND news via cable.

The Dakota Student has a website, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the physical newspaper, and yes, there are ads sold on the web pages so it should be a non issue so something odd is going on because UND has almost 500 more students than it did in the late 1980s.

I don’t know if this is a reasonable comparison or not but in the late 1980s, that newspaper was thriving.

As a copy editor, sports editor and finally managing editor there, I can say from experience that we published the Dakota Student twice a week; Tuesday and Friday, and often times we were pushing a 36-page edition on Friday and 24-page edition on Tuesday.

No, there was no Internet then, Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet. But I just can’t imagine that medium throwing that big of a monkey wrench into the newspaper.

In the same Herald article, there is reference to a website called “Newspaper Death Watch,” that describes when, not if, but when a newspaper is going to collapse.

Unfortunately, there are some that, for whatever reason, don’t try to improve their quality or have a pulse of what the readers want. Those are the kinds of papers that are on a slippery slope.

Credibility of a newspaper can be damaged to a great degree if information is incorrect, if ads don’t say what they are supposed to or management completely disregards what is most important to them, the readers and the advertisers.

There’s also the other side of that spectrum in the name of the Tampa Bay Times, formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times.

This newspaper is a shining example of how a newspaper can not only survive, but thrive in a metropolitan market.

It competes with the Tampa Tribune and a host of TV stations, yet the Times has increased subscriptions, has laid out a cleaner, more informative product and gets to your doorstep on time. They’re doing it right in St. Pete.

There’s always going to be die-hard subscribers no matter how poor or high quality a publication might be. But if a lot of these newspapers want to control their own destiny, they will have to make necessary changes like the Times did, even changing its name.

We need to embrace the Internet as a complement, and not treat it as a competitor.

And, we need to embrace our readers and advertisers and not assume that they assume there’s a better medium.

Whether it’s hard news, sports, classifieds, display ads, obituaries, weather or even the society news, there is no other medium that provides that in one package.

In addition, evening newspapers have been making a comeback, at least to some degree. Maybe that’s an answer.

For decades the evening paper was the best thing since buttered toast, but they’ve all but disappeared. Why are they coming back? There must be some demand.

In October 2015 we vacationed  in Cocoa Beach, Fla., for a week and I had a difficult time finding a local newspaper. I would have read it every day, had it been available. Instead, I read the major nearby daily, the Orlando Sentinel.

By the way, no North Dakota papers are listed on Newspaper Death Watch.