Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

GOOD NEWS NEEDED Why newspapers must continue to set the media agenda

Sept. 11, a day of terror and dread, was, for most Americans, a day of television. We gathered in front of the ubiquitous box, staring at images of horror that were repeated again and again. But Sept. 12 belonged to newspapers, and reminded us why, even now, decades into the electronic era, newspapers remain so important. On the 12th, all across America, people who don't normally read the paper bought a copy and devoured it.

We live in the television age, surrounded by other forms of electronic journalism, but newspapers still do most of the original reporting. In America's towns and cities, the local newspaper sets the news agenda. A few major newspapers do the same for the national news media. Of all the participants in the news business, none is remotely as committed to covering news as the country's daily papers.

This isn't obvious to many Americans. Most people now say they get their news from TV, not newspapers, and many Americans misunderstand the vast differences between the way TV and newspapers report the news. In fact, the world of news without newspapers would be something like a sleek convertible without an engine.

TV news depends on newspapers, as its practitioners freely attest. Radio news is often lifted right out of the newspapers. Government officials and politicians understand the primacy of newspapers and regularly go to newspaper reporters first with important or complicated information. The news organizations maintained by newspapers are what make America's free press meaningful.

Dan Rather of CBS News made this point last August, when he was reporting on the speech President Bush had just made announcing his decision to permit limited use of embryonic stem cells for medical research. "It's the kind of subject that, frankly, radio and TV have difficulty with," Rather told his viewers, "because it requires such depth into the complexities of it. So we can, with, I think, impunity, recommend that, if you're really interested in this, you'll want to read, in detail, one of the better newspapers tomorrow."

The uniqueness of newspapers begins with the resources they devote to news, and the way they deploy those resources.

The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill "Research Triangle" in North Carolina provides a typical example. The most-watched TV news there is broadcast by WRAL-TV in Raleigh. …

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