I was struck by a few things in Howard Weaver’s post announcing that he’s leaving McClatchy — and journalism — at the end of the year.
For one thing, Howard’s a damn fine writer.
I haven’t agreed with everything he’s said or done as I’ve followed his blog for the last couple years, but I recognized that he was someone at the pinnacle of a long career in the news business who still believed in the power of newspapers to make positive changes in our world through impassioned investigative journalism, even if it wasn’t profitable and never would be again.
And then there’s a few nods to the obvious in Howard’s send-off: Google didn’t kill newspapers, Craigslist didn’t kill newspapers, newspapers aren’t dead, there’s more to the problem than the economy.
Howard’s an optimist, probably more than I am, about the future of print, but there’s one important paragraph near the end of his post :
“Nothing else we do as a company means much if we fail to sustain our public service journalism. The McClatchy family has not persevered into the seventh generation in order to publish successful brides magazines, or websites with comprehensive nightclub listings. We labor not to ensure we can create new blogs for pet owners, or rich vertical online sites devoted to vacation properties. All of these and much more are essential, of course, because public service journalism is an expensive proposition, but we must not take for granted the capacity or elasticity of our newsrooms.”
It would be easy to write off that paragraph as a brief rant against spending development cycles trying to build the inevitable platform for hyperlocal cat pictures, but I think he has an excellent point, which I’m about to co-opt and twist:
Spending resources on revenue-generating applications and integrating services that help us serve as a local information utility is important, yes, but if we have a mission as journalists, at some point soon, we’re going to need to funnel resources into development of applications and services that provide more of a public service for readers than a dining guide or a business directory.
Being the best source (with the best SEO) for local information, listings, and answering the frequently asked questions about our block or town or city is important, yes, of course.
But, fulfilling the mission of big-J Journalism (which I believe still can be done, whether or not it’s done by a news organization that puts out a print edition every day) — by doing things like exposing corruption in government, pointing out hypocrisy in the proverbial halls of power, and shining a bright light on the details buried deep in data sets — continues to require more than panel talks at conferences and handwringing editorials, it requires resources.
And by resources, I mean money, time, and Web development teams focused on applications for news.
Which raises the question: Is your organization willing to commit to spending those three things on news?