Last night I attended the weekly meeting of the Sedgwick County Pachyderm Club to hear guest speaker Davis “Buzz” Merritt, former editor of the Wichita Eagle. I’d read and reviewed his book Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy At Risk (my review is here).
His talk was based on the Knightfall book, which is to say it paints a somewhat grim picture of the present state of newspapers and newspaper journalism. It’s important to distinguish between the type of journalism that newspapers do, as compared to journalism from other sources such as television. Newspaper journalism doesn’t necessarily have to be delivered in the traditional newspaper printed on the fibers of dead trees, but it’s important to democracy that this form of journalism survives.
One point I learned last night is that not all of the operations of a newspaper have to be carried over to the Internet. Only 25% does, says Mr. Merritt. The remaining, I believe, is costs such as printing and distribution that won’t apply to an Internet-based delivery model.
Those costs of printing and distribution are large. In the late 1990s, when the Wichita Eagle needed to increase its profit contribution to its parent corporation from 20% to 22.5%, it accomplished that goal by canceling the distribution of 10,000 daily newspapers to western Kansas. This was a profitable business move, but hardly one that advanced journalism.
It’s well-known that young people don’t read newspapers very much, and that’s one source of newspapers’ problems. I asked if maybe young people don’t appreciate and value the type of journalism that newspapers practice. Mr. Merritt replied that he believes they do value it, if it affects them.
A few in the audience expressed how reading on the computer screen is not pleasant. I would suggest to these people to check their equipment and its adjustments. For CRT monitors (the old-fashioned tube-style monitors), there’s a setting usually known as “refresh rate” which if set incorrectly, causes flicker. That’s definitely annoying and can cause headaches. Many people also have old monitors that are simply too small, or are set to use such a low resolution, that not much material can be seen on the screen at one time. For LCD panel users, there are also adjustments that are critical for a good viewing experience. With good equipment, which doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, the experience of reading on the computer can be much improved.