Kevin Slimp on a mighty unusual time for newspapers
By Kevin Slimp
I’ve been noticing a couple of patterns lately, and I wonder if you have been, too.
More for fun than anything, and to keep up with as much as possible in the newspaper business, I created stateofnewspapers.com a few months back. A quick check at the unique visitor stats indicate many of you have been to the site.
To keep relevant content on the site, I try to spend a few hours each week researching the latest happenings related to newspapers, then share what I think is most interesting with visitors. I can’t include all the information I come across. I’d have to quit my “day job” to do that, but there is a lot going on in the newspaper world and sometimes it’s hard to understand why, as well as how, it is taking place simultaneously.
For instance, over the past few months several community papers across the country closed their doors. But at the same time, new newspapers have been popping up, often in the same towns where previous papers had just closed. It seems that most of the shuttered papers are part of large groups, while most of the new papers are independently owned.
Newspapers are closing and opening at the same time. To those uneducated in the history of newspapers, that would seem mighty unusual.
Community papers aren’t the only ones on contrasting paths. College newspapers were making news over the past two or three years for shutting down their print editions, trimming staffs, and de-emphasizing their roles on campus. Yet over the past few months, there seems to be a renaissance in the collegiate press, with campus papers re-emphasizing the importance of the printed word.
As I research collegiate media, hardly a week goes by that I don’t find one or more editorials, sometimes even front page stories, in college newspapers about the importance of print journalism.
Colleges and universities de-emphasizing print journalism and re-emphasizing it at the same time. That’s a head-scratcher, for sure.
If that’s not enough confusion for one day, how about the latest trend at schools of journalism across the U.S. It seems record numbers of entering freshmen (and grad students as well) are declaring journalism as their majors.
Reading a story on that subject just today in The Washington Post brought to mind all the students who have told me they were changing their majors to journalism over the past year or so. I ran into just such a student in downtown Knoxville just a few weeks ago. She was working behind the desk at the Knoxville Visitors Center and we began talking about her education. You guessed it. She had recently transferred to the University of Tennessee, where I sometimes teach, and had changed her major to journalism.
Then, there is my son’s best friend, Camruin. I like Camruin. He’s a nice guy and a great board game player, who majors in computer engineering at the University.
I suppose I should have written “majored.” Yes, you guessed it. Camruin showed up at my home for a game of Risk recently with big news to share. He had changed his major to journalism.
Many might think Camruin’s game play isn’t the only risky move he is making, but his increased enthusiasm about school has been apparent since beginning his first semester as a journalism student in September.
At a time when many universities see journalism as archaic, students are flocking in record numbers to schools of journalism. It’s confusing to say the least.
Then, there’s my work. Many of you know I had planned to reduce my workload in the newspaper industry this year to focus on publishing books, something that is taking up a lot of my time. One of the factors that induced me to make that decision was the decreasing number of attendees at conventions and conferences over the past few years. Other speakers were telling me they just weren’t getting invites like they used to, and I was seeing fewer conferences bringing in outside experts to speak.
It just made sense to create a backup plan. Then a funny thing happened. My inbox began filling with requests to speak at conventions. In one six-day period in September, I accepted invitations to speak at five conventions. Apparently I just thought conventions were drifting away.
It seems unusual to me. Just when I’m beginning to believe conventions are becoming unimportant to newspapers, I start hearing from them – a lot of them – again. I’ve also seen an upswing in the number of requests I receive from community papers to provide on-site training and consulting. Again, it’s confusing.
There is more going on in our industry than I remember at any time in my 25 years as an “expert.” Sure, papers are closing. But we all knew groups couldn’t keep buying papers forever, cutting content, and expect to magically stick around.
At the same time, independent publishers are opening new papers. It’s too early to know how their fortunes will turn out, but I suppose that’s always been the case with newspapers.
Almost 19 years ago, we lived through Y2k. This year, we survived the tariff scare. It’s always something. I suppose that’s why we need journalists...and newspapers.