The face of media is changing
BY KEVIN SMITH
Publisher of The Winchester Sun
I very rarely respond to opinion pieces, especially ones that appear in our newspaper, but I think I need to address Chuck Witt’s last column.
Some of you may wonder, “If you need to respond to it, then why did you publish it?” That is a good question, and I think it is a good way to get a conversation started about local journalism; what it is, what it was, and what its future holds. I think this is a great opportunity to address the future of the Winchester Sun.
I have been in the media industry for 25 years now and worked in the billboard, radio, direct mail, newspaper, and digital marketing industry. I have seen a lot of changes that some people like and some people do not like.
When I started in the billboard business, we still hand-painted them; it was an artist with a projector and a print of what the final product was to look like. Today those same billboards are printed out on canvases or displayed on digital billboards, with no more artists. When I was in radio, working for local and national companies, most radio stations were independently owned, did their own programming, and either had DJs 24 hours a day or would sign off the air from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Today, most radio stations are part of big conglomerates or 75% of their programming is coming from a national syndicator. Now add in internet radio such as Pandora, Slacker, Apple Music, Prime, and do not forget satellite radio for local listeners, and the radio industry is completely different than it was back in the day.
In television, we just made the switch from analog to high definition and we still had televisions built in the USA. Let me tell you, the anchors complained about the way they looked on TV for the next five years.
Now we do not have a single manufacturer of televisions in the USA, and you have streaming services such as Disney+, Crackle, Peacock, Hulu, Netflix, and many, many more that compete with local TV programming.
Why is this important? The media industry is changing for everyone, not just newspapers or newspaper readers, but every media company, every man, woman, and child in the world. The Winchester Sun needs to change as well.
We no longer need Associated Press stories that make us sound like every other newspaper in the country. When I talk to people who say, “All media outlets sound the same,” Associated Press makes other newspapers sound the same, so people do not want that content.
The next question we at The Winchester Sun must ask ourselves is simple: What type of news does Clark County want? We have many tools to help with this; your comments, why people subscribe or stop subscribing, our online analytics. Jeff Moreland, our regional editor, and I looked at our analytics from August 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019, pre-COVID-19, and looked at our top 100 stories. We had only one sports story that was in the top 100, and that was the sports section front, nothing else. The top five areas for that same time frame are in order: Our home page, obituaries, news section, public records, and one in which victims of a Friday night crash were identified.
Should we spend more time talking about government or political issues in the community? Again, looking at the same time frame we do not have any specific articles that fall in our top 100. Some may be on our home page, but none that people are specifically searching for on the site. Should we cover public meetings and political issues? I can provide a very selfish reason why we should, but not one based on the facts of what our readers want. The facts from a 2018 Knight Foundation study show that when a news desert (no local newspaper in a community) is created, government bond rates go up an average of 25% and civic involvement goes down by the same amount. According to what people are reading, we should not send a reporter to government meetings, but I just cannot do that. Those are not the stories being read, but it is one of our civic duties to cover government meetings and be a watchdog for the community.
Jeff Moreland does not sit in another state and decide what is going into each of the papers under his charge. He is physically located in Danville, Kentucky, and is a lifelong resident of Kentucky. He is in the process of bringing on board a new local news editor for The Winchester Sun and The Jessamine Journal, along with a new reporter. Our staffing is not the same as it was 25 years ago, but neither are a lot of businesses. I know because I have worked in other media companies like TV, radio, billboard companies (remember those artists that were let go because of new technology and not replaced) and almost every other industry is using less workers today than ever before.
I am originally from a small town outside of Lansing, Michigan, and our largest employer was and still is General Motors. Anyone in the UAW can tell you it takes fewer people to build a car today than it did 25 years ago.
I know a lot of you reading this love your printed edition of The Winchester Sun, but sadly enough, economically that model does not work anymore.
Many people want their local news in a short and precise format with video and graphics. That is where our digital content comes into play. We produce news stories on our site six days a week, and as soon as we get information, or a breaking news story, it goes up on winchestersun.com. You can be alerted to it by our newsletter that goes out six days a week or our breaking news alerts. This is where our news reporters and editors need to be proficient to get the news to our readers in a way that all of you want. If not then we are not doing our job.
How can our readers help The Winchester Sun be successful? Let us know what content you would be willing to pay for. Remember, none of this happens without The Winchester Sun paying the salary of your local reporters, your local editor, the pressmen and insert staff who put together your Winchester Sun which is delivered to you in your mailbox, or for you to get your news online. The way our business model works is one of two ways. We fund our staffing by subscriptions or by advertising, and if we don’t have those then you have a news desert. Facebook, Apple and Google had revenue in the third quarter of 2020 of over $132 billion and did not produce one single piece of content. They made that money by scrapping newspaper content, selling other people’s music, the 25% apple app store tax, your photos and videos.
Your local newspaper is your trusted source of what is going on in your community and that is what The Winchester Sun’s goal is to do. It may not be done in the same way it was done 25 years ago, but that is our mission, and to get that content to you in the form you prefer.
I will tell all our readers what I told Chuck Witt when I met him last year, and I hope our readers take me up on this. If you have questions or concerns, or if you think something that should be covered is not, or if our paper is too liberal or conservative, please contact me directly. I cannot promise to implement every request or cover every story, but what I can promise is to listen with the intent to understand what your concerns are, and to work with our community to make it the best it can be.
My direct phone line is 859-469-6400 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, I look forward to hearing from you.