2013.01.30 Newsprint is still alive

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

All week long I dreaded the trip to Grand Rapids. It meant getting up really early on a Saturday morning for a two and a half hour drive. It meant wearing clothes that I didn't want to wear. It meant possibly making small talk with strangers. It meant falling way behind in what needed to be accomplished by deadline Tuesday afternoon.

A really observant reader should be able to examine the Observer closely and roughly determine the order of events. Lots of typos in a story? That's frantic writing as deadline approaches. Captions under photos shrunken to a brief statement? Frantic writing after deadline. Misspellings in headlines? That's beyond frantic.

Those problems are nearly always on a sports page. That's what gets done last and ends with the most mistakes. And to think that so many people don't even read sports stories. It's all old news. Why bother even writing...whoa, I stopped myself just in time. I will call coaches later today.

It's late January, time for the annual Michigan Press Association convention at the Grand Amway. Most people attend on Friday for an array of programs, but I'm a working publisher. I had basketball games to cover Friday night.

If I really wanted to go to the convention, I could have skipped basketball and used old photos, but I'm not the convention sort of guy. I really only went to receive a plaque for an award won last fall.

But since I was going, I wanted to get there in time to hear Kevin Slimp speak again this year. Kevin is a newspaper consultant who knows a lot about everything related to newspaperology.

One of his standard presentations is to talk about newspapers that are really succeeding. He looks for characteristics that are shared among the good papers—some of which I know in my own operation and others that I fail at.

His talk was scheduled at 10:30 and we made it on time, or so I thought. There had been a change and I was about 25 minutes late. I walked into the room and first entered a section where a couple dozen college students were seated. They didn't notice my late entry. Nearly every one of them was looking down at their phone, thumbs in motion.

I spotted my former colleague from the 1980s, Steve Begnoche, and sat down beside him. I love listening to Kevin Slimp. He's the most optimistic guy around when it comes to talking about newspapers. Newsprint was supposed to be dead by now. That was the prediction a decade or so ago. You wouldn't find a newspaper to hold in your hand. 

That seemed to be a believable story as papers started laying off staff and cutting back on pages, and in some cases closing up shop altogether. The Great Recession at the end of the Bush Era was not kind to newspapers.

Kevin Slimp tells stories about papers that are doing it right, that have escaped the downward trend and maintained excellence.

The Observer operates in some tough territory. Within 30 miles of Morenci, there's more than a dozen other weekly newspapers, three daily papers and four shoppers. You could follow everything Kevin Slimp would suggest and it would still be a rough road. But he does offer hope for the future—at least to a degree.

I thought it was amusing to read this headline a couple of days before going to Grand Rapids: "Print's financial future may last longer than expected." Gee, how encouraging. One of the prognosticators said the great digital conversion (like going from hand-written news to the printing press) will occur at different times for different papers between now and 2087, so I guess I have a few more basketball games to cover.

At the awards lunch, I met up with Ed Wendover, an old newspaper friend from years ago and promptly lifted one of his pant legs. Sure enough; no socks. Some things never change.

Seated at my table, I spoke with colleagues from St. Ignace rather than facing small talk with the big city advertising executives that I dreaded.

I learned about someone who retired and soon died of a heart attack. My conclusion was to keep on filling newsprint. As I said before, more basketball games to cover.

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