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Burriss on Media: Newspapers


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  William Shakespeare and Gertrude Stein both talked about the value of a name, and they seemed to reach the same conclusion:  not much value at all.  It’s the attributes of the name, what it stands for, that really matters.  Call it what you will, it’s the actual “thing” that really counts, not what you call it.
    So perhaps maybe it’s time to rethink what we mean by “journalism” and “newspaper.”
    For more than a decade newspaper circulation has, by almost measures, been shrinking.  Simultaneously, advertising revenue has plummeted.  So newspaper managers responded by cutting the heart of the news operation, reporters and writers, which led to something of a disconnect between the community and the newspaper, which led to a further decline in circulation.  I think you can see where this eventually leads:  newspapers going out of business.
    At the same time, more and more newspapers have been creating on-line editions, in which they gave away their product, the news, for free.  In what other industry or business do you create something, and then proceed to give it away?  After all, how good can a product really be if it’s free?
    So I think we need a new approach:  first, newspapers that have an on-line presence need to charge for their product, particularly at the local level.  More and more papers are, in fact, doing just that.
    Second, we need to rethink the equation where “news” is synonymous with “newspaper.”  A newspaper is merely the name of a device by which we receive the news.  So which is more important, the delivery device or the product that is delivered.
      Let’s look at it another way:  does it really matter to you how a package is delivered to your door?  Would you not accept delivery because it came via this or that carrier?  Of course not.
    As we train the next generation of journalists, schools of journalism, of which I am proudly a part, need to make sure they are focusing more on the product, rather than the package. 
    I’m Larry Burriss.