Some of you know that once upon a time, the Lehi Free Press, an arm of the Provo Daily Herald, asked me to write a column about finance for their paper. I wrote and published four of them, so I guess I can legitimately be called a columnist. Cool.
In reality, I wrote SIX of them, but only four were ever printed. Apparently a local man complained about my doing this, saying that I was essentially getting free advertising, and since he wasn’t, he wanted my column dropped. So after a month or so of complaints, the Free Press dropped my column. This man was offered an opportunity to write his own column, but he declined. I’ve read some of his writing, and I don’t blame him.
Four weeks after dropping my column, the paper folded.
Now, far be it from me to assert any cause and effect here, but one of the problems local papers have is that they have delusions of grandeur. The fact is that national newspapers are in deep, deep trouble. It’s just waaaaay easier to get your news from Yahoo and CNBC than from the New York Times. It’s pointless and stupid for the Provo Herald’s lead story to be “Obama Calls for More Fiscal Irresponsibility”. Even assuming that you didn’t know he was going to do that, in which case it’s hardly “news”, you will have heard this on the radio and read it online LONG before the Herald could get it to your doorstep.
Local papers are in trouble, too, but they don’t have to be. There is a legitimate need for local newsgathering, the kind of stuff that is not going to make Yahoo!, in fact, it isn’t going to make any online source at all. One of the best ways for local papers to remain relevant is to publish content that can’t be had anywhere else; interviews with local people, obscure local events and happenings, and (especially) locally-written articles that the authors agree not to put up on line. Like, oh, I don’t know, MINE. I know that the ad model for newspapers is broken, and that it’s tough to re-think and re-tool enough to fix it. But folks, the deal is that unless you offer something that isn’t already out there, you’re going to get clobbered. And fold. If you DO offer something that isn’t already out there, people will pay for it if the quality is high enough. You can make your own meals, too, but people still pay to go out to eat. You can kowtow to the local loudmouth that thinks he’s being gypped and stiff your readers, or you can try to put your best out there and let the whiners whine. Your choice.
So a couple of weeks ago the Herald staff came and asked me to start posting my column to their online site. It’s fledgling, and it’s got some problems, but they’re trying. They’re passionate about it, and that might make enough of a difference for them to get off the ground. So go read my columns there. For now, I don’t post them to my own blog, so the only place you can get them is at the Lehi site.