We have all heard the discussions about the demise of the printed newspaper.  In fact, in this world where we are doing most everything online and the “paperless office” is becoming the norm, the newspaper will indeed become just another thing that is going to be delivered to us through electronic means.  Thus, we have the emergence of the newspaper website.

I have found most of the newspaper websites, both within Cascadia and around the country, to be sorely lacking.  Somewhere along the line, the publishers on the newspapers seem to be treating the website as a poor second cousin to the print version of the newspaper.  Yes, under the current system, the newspaper company is deriving much less revenue from the website than they do from the printed edition of the paper.  However, this is going to prove to be a temporary situation.  For a number of reasons, the days of the printed newspaper are numbered, for the same reasons that we read  other articles online, or the reasons that we pay our bills online now.

I have given a lot of thought to the online newspaper of the future.  We are purchasing a product.  That product is journalism. I expect that journalism to be of a certain quality, no matter on which medium that journalism is presented to me.  I am looking for information.  That information is important to me.  It matters not whether the journalism and information are presented on paper or online.  It is the content that I want to pay for.

If the newspaper of the future wants me to take them seriously, there are a number of things they must do for me.  Among them:

  • They must present me a large amount of local content.  I can get national content from the wire services from almost everywhere.  There are two things, though, that I cannot effective get from there.  One is news of how the national news will affect me locally.  (“How will Obama’s decision affect the residents of Cascadia?  Or the residents of Southwest Portland?)  The other is actual local news.  I will pay to receive my local news online the day that the local paper commits to providing me consistent, quality local coverage.  They are not now doing that.
  • To reinforce what I want for local news, let me explain.  I want news of my city and county governments.  I want the news of my state and region.  I want to know about the people running for my local School Board.  (Last week, you had to look hard and deep into The Oregonian’s website to even discover that a School Board election was coming up.)  If someone can provide me all of that local information, it is worth the price of a newspaper subscription to me every month.
  • I want news of local events.  If my local newspaper can’t be bothered to tell me when the Rose Festival or Seafair events are coming up, then who will?  To a certain extent, I want my newspapers to serve as a cheerleader for their communities.  We all stand to gain from this.
  • It is nice that online newspapers allow reader comments on their news stories.  What is not good is that every single one is published, whether they are “on topic” or not.  It is good to encourage a wide discussion on the issues.  It is not good when every news discussion somehow degenerates into potshots on immigration or the lifestyle of Portland’s mayor.  One function of a newspaper used to be to edit copy.  The newspaper never tried to print every single letter to the editor.  Nor should they try to publish every comment made online.  If the editors wold actually “edit” then the online publication would be much better for it.

Our local news is moving from a paper presentation to an online one whether we like it or not.  If the newspaper companies can step up the quality of the information and journalism that they offer, then they will have a saleable product.  If not, they will go the way of the dinosaurs.  I hope that they survive, only as a means to provide our region with the quality journalism and information that it deserves.