In recent years, being a journalist is like being someone who went through a near fatal illness but recovered.
When you run into old acquaintances they will ask, “So, how are things at the paper?”
The inflection in their voice is clear: Is there still a paper? Are you still employed? Will you be in a few months?
Sort of like asking someone how they’re doing when you really want to know if their cancer has stayed in remission or not.
Everyone knows the newspaper industry has taken some heavy hits as the Internet and a host of new competition for advertisers and readers arose.
That’s why visiting with Free Press readers in a downtown park Friday was reassuring. The Free Press put on a picnic as part of the newspaper’s 125th anniversary this year.
The crowd was obviously slanted toward those who care about news and newspapers, but talking with them reminded that what we do here matters, even if how we do it is different.
Our publisher, Jim Santori, has pushed hard on the concept that The Free Press Media — as we now call ourselves — is a multi-faceted medium. The print edition commingles with Free Press-produced magazines, Twitter feeds, website, videos, photo galleries, blogs and more. And “subscribers” are now “members.”
“A subscriber is a commodity-buying relationship,” Santori said of the difference in the definitions.
“We’d like to acknowledge that it’s really more of a membership-based relationship because we’re both really invested in each other,” he said.
“Once there’s an acknowledgment that they’re partners in our viability and we are partners in the community’s viability, we listen more, we engage more.”
Santori said the old journalism model was one of “We knew what was best for the community and we rarely engaged in the communications to learn what others were thinking.”
I might quibble with him a bit. Journalists, good ones anyway, have always been dependent on knowing what people in their community were thinking if they wanted to do their jobs well.
But newspapers — the media — no longer have the luxury of setting the agenda the way they once did. The relationship with readers and their expectations are clearly different. And their and our access to new technology puts everything in an entirely new light.
Still, what we do — keeping people informed about their community and country through big stories and not-so-big stories — doesn’t change, even if many of the ways we do it does change.
I asked Santori if the Free Press would be here 125 years from now.
“Absolutely. We need to express that to people. We’re here to stay. We’ll adapt and change, but news dissemination is here to stay. Democracy requires it.”
Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or email@example.com.