I did something Tuesday morning I hadn’t done in at least two years: I attended a meeting with the intention of covering it with nothing but a pen and notepad.
As I’ve written before, my laptop goes everywhere with me, allowing me to take notes and update our Facebook page or website on the spot with breaking news — while also being able to focus on other areas of newspaper work during times when a “board” meeting becomes a “bored” one.
I’ve also resorted to note-taking solely on the computer during phone interviews. It’s easier, more accurate and more efficient.
But Tuesday, I decided to be ironic and kick it old school when attending the Good Morning Truckee panel, “Changing Landscape of Media,” at Truckee Tahoe Airport.
It was well attended by roughly 50 business owners, nonprofit representatives, public employees and others from across the North Shore and Truckee, and we listened (while I scribbled) to a panel of regional media professionals discuss the state of Truckee/Tahoe media, and where it might be headed.
The panelists — Michael Gelbman, publisher, Sierra Sun/North Lake Tahoe Bonanza; Mayumi Elegado, publisher/owner, Moonshine Ink; Katherine Hill, publisher/owner, The Weekly; JD Hoss, owner, KTKE 101.5FM Truckee Tahoe Radio; Eric Brandt, president, Tahoe TV; and Robert Grossman, anchor, Lake Tahoe TV — discussed the good, bad and ugly of the media industry’s evolution the past decade.
While “it’s not all bad news,” as Brandt reminded us, it’s no secret that media has had quite a few downs. The biggest were in the form of the “double whammy” — as event moderator and Sierra Nevada College journalism professor Tanya Canino put it — of the Great Recession occurring at the same time as the meteoric rise of smartphones, social media and other live-information-now vehicles.
Newspapers were hit especially hard, and the unprecedented number of layoffs, reorganizations, position eliminations and responsibility shuffles from 2008-2012 has been well-documented.
Part of that unceremonious downfall for newspapers is our fault, due to a combination of the experts’ inability to grasp the importance of the Internet, and an unwillingness to embrace the concept of change.
“We were an arrogant industry … that’s where we sort of stumbled … and that should never have happened,” Gelbman said.
So what does the future hold for media, both here locally and in other smaller communities across America?
What we’ve gotten ourselves into is climbing the tall task of “balancing the financial end of the business with what the public needs to know,” said Canino — after all, one very important thing to remember is even though media outlets are private businesses, “the public feels like they have ownership.”
Add to that this challenge: How to overcome the “comfort news syndrome,” as it’s called. With the explosion of social media, blogs, Facebook, etc., the line between a “legitimate” journalistic report and subjective and slanted commentary is getting grayer and grayer.
For example, Fox News took a bit of a beating Tuesday morning. It was suggested as being the poster child for “comfort news syndrome” by a perception its content is crafted toward the portion of this country that likes to lean right, perhaps far right.
But we all know there’s as strong a perception out there that certain news websites, blogs and other mediums lean too far left, or too far Tea, or too far Libertarian, etc.
The point is nowadays you can get what you want to read at the click of the mouse, rather than being delivered what we professionals who are trained to write objective news stories provide.
Then, you couple this with all the false reports and rumors cluttering cyber space, and it can be tough to know what to believe. That old saying of “don’t believe everything your read in the newspaper” has transitioned nicely to the Internet.
“Brevity is an art,” Elegado said. “... The challenge for us as a society is we’re going to have a generation soon that won’t be able to separate fact from opinion.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. We all know people (not just kids, folks) these days and their love affairs with smartphones — and with that, continuing evidence that we “r” losing our grip on literacy.
I believe the odds are high that if you give most people the option of playing with an iPad or smartphone for two hours vs. reading a hard copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” they’re going to gun for the former.
So that, in a nutshell, is the challenge we face when it comes to predicting the future of local media. Not only might we struggle to deliver the amount and depth of news our readers want, but whether or not we can be trusted with the information (or if it can even be consumed) is a legitimate concern.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers; he may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin1MacMillan.