Despite challenges, newspapers still the best source for local news
National Newspaper Week, Oct. 1-7, is a good time to consider the state of newspaper journalism in South Dakota. As a former newspaper editor, I come at this task with a certain nostalgia for the way things were “back in the day.”
Like other businesses, newspapers have gone through some changes as a result of the economy and the pandemic. A few weekly newspapers in the state have closed and many of the state’s daily newspapers have cut back on the number of days that they publish, pushing readers to check for news on their websites.
The Gannett-owned newspapers in Sioux Falls, Watertown and Aberdeen continue to vex their readers who clamor for more local news. However, their poor performance has inspired competitors in those communities. The enthusiastic welcome for those startups by local readers has shown that there is a hunger for good journalism and professionals ready to provide it online and in print.
Many changes in the industry have been for the better. Those changes are noted in the theme for the week, “In Print. Online. For You. #NewspapersYourWay.” Of course there are those of us who aren’t quite sure what the hashtag means, but it’s a certainty that newspapers are working to get their news out to readers as many ways as they can.
In addition to their printed editions, newspapers offer websites, email newsletters and e-editions in recognition of the fact that more readers are comfortable getting their news online if they can be assured that it comes from a reliable source.
The fact that you’re reading this column (thanks for that) shows that you’re not averse to getting news online as you could be reading it on the South Dakota Searchlight website or in the Searchlight Daily email newsletter. There’s also a chance it’s being reprinted in your local newspaper, as all stories and columns offered by South Dakota Searchlight are offered for reprint at no charge.
In an age when almost everyone on the internet has an opinion or “news” about a subject, many lack the tradition of careful, insightful reporting that’s a hallmark of newspaper journalism. Few online sources can keep up with the volume of news generated by local newspapers. Those newspapers keep tabs on city councils, school boards and county commissions. Their pages are filled with community calendars, obituaries and sports news. They may even find the time to write a feature story about people in their community.
Newspapers are still a good source for advertisements from local businesses. Another, often overlooked form of advertising is a stalwart of the newspaper business — public notices. Those notices ensure that citizens have regular access to information about how their tax dollars are being spent by local governments.
In the upcoming legislative session there will be a movement — spearheaded by the state’s newspaper association — to allow internet-first news startups that have a free printed product to be eligible to print public notices. That’s yet another change for South Dakota’s newspapers, but one that ensures an expanding base of publications that can offer public notice advertising.
It doesn’t matter if the operation is centered in print or mostly online, newspapering is a tough business. Each day you start with blank pages, hustling to fill them with news and advertising. It’s not easy, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s rewarding. As much as I may long for the way things used to be in the newspaper business, it’s easy to see that their future is bright and that the bright future is based on the fact that newspapers are still the best source for local news.