Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 12 October 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.
From time to time I argue with Express editor Christian Knight about the need to bring the paper properly into the online world.
Now some Express readers might argue that immortalisation of the paper within the internet would be just too much of a good thing. Those same readers say that there is never anything in the Express anyway! Why, then, bother?
Editor Knight takes a different view.
As editor, he is hardly going to accept an argument that says there is nothing in his newspaper! His worry has been that if he puts the paper fully online, his Armidale readers may stop buying it and just read the online edition. This worry is set against the background of the general troubles facing the main Fairfax papers.
I don’t agree with those who say that there is no content in the paper, although I would accept that some editions do get a little thin. Living in Sydney as I now do, I read the Express quite carefully and find some very interesting content indeed.
A year or so back, one of my metropolitan blogging colleagues actually visited a country town, brought back a copy of the local paper, and then ran a piece parodying the stories.
Talk about come in spinner. I retaliated by taking stories from one edition of the Express and then comparing it with similar stories from Granny Herald. The Express stood up pretty well.
This type of disparaging attitude towards the country press in general is not uncommon.
In September, Express writer Janene Carey wrote on her blog about lunch with a friend who seemed bemused that Janene would want a part-time postdoctoral fellowship so that she could continue working at the Express. The friend asked Janene if she’d 'ever considered journalism as a profession?' - by which she meant a job on a "real" newspaper, a daily in the city covering serious, important stories.
Musing over this conversation, Janene simply recorded three stories that she had worked on that day, each local but with national or state implications.
The days when the Express ran front page foreign policy stories about developments in Tsarist Russia may be long gone. However, this does not mean that locally attuned reporting either lacks complexity or is without value.
I suspect that I probably read the paper from a somewhat different perspective to most readers.
It’s not just that I want to keep in touch with local developments. I also use the Express as a source of stories and ideas in a way that may surprise many.
I think that Armidale people have a tendency to knock the place. You might be surprised at the size of the Armidale footprint, at the way in which the apparently local actually has broader significance. That was Janene’s point.
Linking this now to my argument about the Express’s online presence, the paper actually serves two quite different audiences; one is purely local, the second is the broader and especially expatriate community with interests in Armidale.
If you limit the paper’s on-line presence to a small number of stories, then you are to my mind effectively penalising the broader Armidale community. I think that’s actually a problem for the city.
But can you broaden the online presence without affecting the local readership? I think that you can because the interests are different. You have, in effect, two linked publications.
I don’t think that I am going to win this argument any time soon, if only because of the way that Fairfax inline has been evolving.
In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy and use the print edition as a source of stories and ideas for a broader public.