An invitation for Morley Safer

Feb 1, 2013

We’ll show you that newspapers are
not dying!

By Bill Tubbs
Publisher | North Scott Press, Eldridge, IA
On Jan. 6, CBS’ Morley Safer declared to the world on “60 Minutes” that “Newspapers are dying.” The entire segment was about the Katrina-ravaged New Orleans Times-Picayune’s decision to publish three times a week instead of every day. From that, the respected newsman drew the sweeping conclusion that our days are numbered.
Safer’s words were met with immediate scorn by editors and publishers of community newspapers like ours coast to coast via the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors’ e-mail network.
“Only one person in the ‘60 Minutes’ story—and it was definitely not Safer—distinguished between metro dailies and other publications,” wrote Patric Hedlund of Frazer Park, CA.
“I am tired of fighting professors who say print is dead because the New Orleans paper scales back,” said Don Corrigan of St. Louis.
“The Bigs, in my experience, are most often unaware weeklies exist, and when they do see them, view them as the quaint, chicken pie dinner sheets that don’t provide serious journalism,” commented Ross Connelly of Hardwick, VT.
Bill Reader of Ohio University pointed out that dailies with circulations of more than 50,000 make up less than 5 percent of all newspapers in the U.S. Weeklies dominate the industry, he said, with about 85 percent of all newspapers being in the “non-daily” category and accounting for 75 percent of total print circulation of U.S. newspapers.
The ISWNE crowd wants equal time on “60 Minutes,” but I doubt we’ll get it—even though community papers would be the first to bend over backwards to let others express opposing views on the pages of our newspapers.
If “newspapers are dying,” as Safer asserts, why did circulation and advertising revenues go up last year at The North Scott Press and why did more people than in the previous year submit letters to the editor? (The increases were small, but they were not decreases, and for that we celebrate. We are not dying.)
Our annual salute to letter writers recognizes 225 of those who believed The NSP was a good way to engage in conversations in the greater rural Scott County community. Some letters are political or controversial—the big issues this year were three zoning disputes, a school election, and primary and general elections—but most are not.
Some letters give others a pat on the back for a job well done, pay tribute to a life well lived, or comment on current events. Significantly, every letter included the street address of the author, which is the highest accountability. The number of actual letters and guest columns was close to 340.
Our readers prove Safer wrong every time they renew their subscriptions, buy a copy at the store, post a clipping on the refrigerator, place a display or classified ad, buy something from one of our advertisers, or visit with friends and neighbors about something they read in the paper. That is the story that needs to be told. It is the story of small communities across America. It may not be the headlines “60 Minutes” is looking for, but it is how we live out here in “fly-over” country.
I write not because we in rural America need the validation. Our lives will go on just fine, thank you. But it does matter if the media buyers like the one for the pizza franchise from Kansas that colonized our community and never once acknowledged the existence of a local paper think newspapers are dying. They didn’t even use us to place ads for employment.
As people who believe that our community is more complete when the businesses that are located here work together for the common good, how will the decision-makers from Kansas and elsewhere ever take us seriously if they are told by “60 Minutes” that we are dying?
Morley Safer, you’ve done us wrong, but here’s an offer you can’t refuse. Come to Eldridge and spend a week with our staff. Come with us to a meeting of the school board or city council or a ball game. Talk to our advertisers and the people around town in the neighborhoods and the churches and the civic groups and the farms. Ask them if The NSP isn’t a pretty good way to get the word out to a mass audience in our community. And then tell me, if you can, that newspapers are dying.
The choice is yours. We’ll treat you well.