Who? Me?—Defensive. High-minded. Timid. They're the three steps of receiving criticism in this industry. For example, on the letters page of our Aug. 24-30 issue, John Krone wrote to us that he isn't fond of "the sort of cynical, urban hipster tone" presented in our paper, and he also doesn't like the "do-gooder activist stories."
Step One--Defensive: Who's cynical? Me? Sheesh. Don't hate 'cuz we're with it.
Step Two--High-minded: So what if we spend a little extra wordage to make our stuff more readable? Old thinking is killing off other dinosaur papers faster than you can say "Mesozoic Era." Furthermore, stories that make a difference are why I'm here in the first place.
Step Three--Timid: Maybe I could take it down a notch. Mesozoic Era? Who writes like that?
It is, says the urban hipster, "all good." The Krones of the world will keep writing in about the job we're doing, and I'll keep having bad reactions to it, as though Krone had singled me out and off-handedly shot bullets into my kneecaps. I'll let you in on a secret that's not really a secret: Critics are the worst at taking criticism.
So are newspapers—even when the criticism doesn't come from smart letter writers but from spreadsheets showing plummeting profits. The Economist published "More Media, Less News" in the August edition. The secondary headline read: "Newspapers are making progress with the Internet, but most are still too timid, defensive or high-minded." That got me thinking about how the industry handles its critiques and, because I'm self-centered like that, about how I do, too.
The picture the Economist paints is of an industry that has crossed its arms, stamped its foot and refused to change. Most newspaper companies earned all their profits from their printed product, which is on the decline as most of us now scan headlines via monitor and mouse or cell phone.
The good news is most papers have begun to change the way they view online content. They've stopped putting limited content online and wringing extra cash out of readers for access to their sites. But as the financial squeeze gets put on newsrooms around the country, one element of success often goes out with the rest of the pulp: relevant, local content.
Stop the press! People want to read about the community they're in!
Sites that focus on local stories instead of printing the same bits of wire that show up everywhere are getting all the traffic. Furthermore, it's time for us to start exploring the possibilities that online media offers. The site isn't supposed to replicate the paper, says the story. The most "adventurous" of papers, according to the Economist, are even allowing readers to send it tips and photos that are then published in the paper and online.
"Adventurous," huh? Let's not get crazy with the language. Creative presentation, relevant topics and reader involvement--those are the basics of good journalism, online or otherwise.