During the recent flood disaster that struck Cedar Rapids, the role of a media company and how it relates to the community it covers so deeply has become increasingly clear based on lessons learned. Now the role for media turns into one of responsibility. We know we have a tremendous opportunity, but what we do from here will define us for the next several decades.
The Gazette, the newspaper where I work, put out incredible print editions throughout, and continues to do so. It’s been chronicled here by Alan Mutter and here by our still fairly new editor Steve Buttry as to how well the online edition and breaking news text alerts aided people near and far with timely, relevant and contextual information on digital platforms. Both links also mention how the newsroom, as a whole, has operated fantastically throughout the disaster.
This disaster and recovery, for the first time, has shown the company what we already knew: There is tremendous power in delivering news and information on multiple platforms to serve multiple audiences with the idea of bringing a community together.
Since the disaster has turned from breaking news into a years-long recovery process, many people in our building are discussing and planning where we go from here and how, as our CEO Chuck Peters puts it, we become the keel of the community.
Keel: a central fore-and-aft structural member in the bottom of a hull, extending from the stem to the sternpost and having the floors or frames attached to it, usually at right angles: sometimes projecting from the bottom of the hull to provide stability.
Buttry this week offered a tweet to link to a speech given by Tim McGuire at the American Association of Independent Newspaper Dealers Speech, June 23, 2008, Baltimore, Md. The speech is titled “Visions of a future for independent newspaper distributors”. Content Ninja offers her review here.
In the speech, McGuire offers a few paragraphs about the Sunday print edition, which for many newspapers is still the most cherished edition. I think those paragraphs are important to share here, if for no other reason than to further my point in the headline.
That Sunday newspaper and that mass distribution element are so important I think we should seriously consider LOWERING the price. Let’s make it a buck. That’s not an effort to chase new readers; it should be an effort to make the Sunday newspaper available to everyone who still wants to make a newspaper a part of their life.
The content of that Sunday newspaper should be premised on the assumption this is THE mass product of the week. It should be a powerful week in review and week-ahead product designed to create knowledge, guide readers to the vast information resources of the web and to entertain.
It is essential that the newspaper of the future be a convener of people online and in print. This Sunday product should be the center of that convener activity. Newspapers must convene all sorts of audiences in all sorts of imaginative ways. In a fractured media world it is incumbent on the democratic responsibilities of newspapers that newspapers lead, guide and direct everything from democracy to knitting clubs.
One of the greatest threats to democracy is that our long-tailed world might destroy all sense of community. It should be newspapers that save us from that fracture and that Sunday newspaper can be the mass product that serves as a community rallying point.
I am proposing that media companies do something even more radical than what’s mentioned above. Make the Sunday edition – once its revamped based on what I think are good ideas above – a free publication.
Locally, what better time to bring people together than to give them a free resource of news and information during this trying and difficult time. If we promote the Sunday edition with goals similar to what’s mentioned above everyone in our community wins, not just those hurt by the flood.