Friday, February 27, 2009

Death of Newspapers Could Harm the Husker Blogosphere

Tomorrow morning, Denver finds themselves a one-newspaper town following today's shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News. That's better than San Fransisco, where the Bay Area's only daily newspaper may only be days from shutting down. The parent company of the Chicago Tribune is in bankruptcy, even with selling the Chicago Cubs off to Omaha's Ricketts family for hundreds of millions. In Omaha, the World-Herald trimmed several pages from it's daily edition last month.

Are newspapers a dinosaur? In some respects, yes. The costs of newsprint is increasing, and by the time the paper hits the newsstand or lands in your driveway, the news in the paper is several hours old. Has the internet, and the rise of the blogosphere killed the newspaper?

In it's current form, it seems that way. But the truth is that blogs are dependent on the newspaper industry for it's very survival. Kill the newspapers...and you kill the blogs. Sounds backwards, you say? Let me ask you this...where do most blogs get their content?

The newspaper. Sure, there are a few blogs that do some original reporting, but those are the exception, not the rule. Every one of the BigRedBloggers I've come across do this as a hobby; we all have real jobs that pay the bills for us. We do it because we enjoy it, and we do it in our spare time. That's why you don't find much "news" on the blogs, but rather commentary and analysis. News gets included to, but more often than not, it's a link to mainstream journalists who cover the Huskers as a full-time job. Something that bloggers don't have the resources to do.

And who are those mainstream journalists? 99% of the time, it's the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star. Omaha television stations provide some coverage, but other than highlights, it's superficial at best. Not much you can do in three minutes during a newscast, and the web sites of Omaha's TV stations are pathetic at best. KMTV's "BigRedNow" section talks about "Breaking News", but hasn't been updated in days, with most of the content weeks or months old. WOWT's Husker page has Wednesday's 10-6 win over North Dakota in baseball as the most recent news. KETV's Big Red Zone most recent news is the Patrick Witt departure, with the rest dating back through the offseason and even a little leftover Gator Bowl residue.

What about radio? Frankly, they're almost like full-time bloggers. KOZN's Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe get great interviews, but except for an occasional practice report, they aren't breaking any news. Down the dial, KXSP's "Big Show" is mostly fluff and trash talk, building on the Jim Rome audience. The radio stations are limited in what they can do with Nebraska football, as the athletic department's exclusive radio contract with IMG bars the coaching staff from appearing on radio shows not originated by the Husker Sports Network. (Which, by the way, is all that KFAB seems willing to do anymore.)

So where does Husker coverage come from? In the's the World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star, for the most part. Which is why the industry's problems are so dire for us bloggers; if we lose the newspapers, we lose our sources. The signs of the strains are already appearing locally. The World-Herald ceased distribution to parts of western Nebraska earlier this year, and the size of the paper is significantly smaller now than last year. It's not incomprehendable that one (or both) Nebraska major newspapers could cease to exist at some point in the future. And frankly, there's nothing else that will be able to pick up the slack. Bloggers may try, but there's no way those of us with day jobs can break away to cover practice or press conferences.

That's why, despite their many faults, I still subscribe to the World-Herald. Perhaps it's more of a habit, but I still find the daily paper a useful resource. It's easier to read at the dinner table (with less risk of electrocution when a 2 year old spills milk all over the place). I can take it to the living room or the bathroom. I can take the Sunday edition and set it next to the computer as I post my own reactions. At one time, I even considered subscribing to the Journal-Star, but they don't deliver to Omaha, and besides, they do have a great web site. Like them or not, they are still the best resources this state has for news. Certainly, the growth of the internet has pushed both organizations into new mediums. Both now have online video, and their reporters now appear on camera filing reports. But will they be able to stay afloat in an online world?

We have to hope so, because sadly, nobody else seems remotely interested in challenging the newspapers in terms of depth and breadth of coverage.


Jason said...

Interesting point Mike. I think another reason why you don't see blogs breaking news is because NU won't give press access to anyone who's not in newspaper, radio or TV.

Granted, most bloggers are doing this as a hobby. But, if we could get access, believe me, we'd figure out a way to get someone in the room.

I'd love to see what bloggers would do if they were given the same level of access as the OWH or LJS.

Hopefully it doesn't take the newspapers going away to make NU crack open the door a little.

Husker Mike said...

I don't know how many of us could cover the standard press briefings, but the postgame conferences at home would definitely be in play.

One reason I assume that bloggers are given access is that blogs generally have a low cost of entry. That being said, many of us have a long track record that counts for something. (I've been blogging since 2005; CornNation, DXP, and Big Red Network have been going since 2006. That investment of time into covering the program should count for something.

Misha said...

Excellent points, Husker Mike. You could broaden your discussion from Big Red sports to the world of news at large - print journalism remains the best source of news (far better than television), and the trend of major newspapers declining or outright dissolving is a disturbing one.

Husker Mike said...

I thought about writing it that way originally, but I wanted to drive the point home with a sports-related audience. When you expand the scope to politics, government, and society, the problem with losing one of Nebraska's newspapers becomes even more distressing.