The slow-moving catastrophe that is the newspaper industry death spiral . . .

torbee

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Was doing a little archive searching today on a project, and came across this 2005 story about the takeover of the Pulitzer newspaper chain by Lee (hey, even a Torbee sighting in there!) and this particular part of the story hit me like a ton of bricks:



In 1999, Lee Enterprises bought another Pulitzer property: the Ravalli Republic in Hamilton, Montana, circulation 5,200. The 23 full-timers and 23 part-timers at the daily had to reapply for their jobs. Only eight got them.

Now, the fact that only about 1/3 of the news staff of that newly acquired Lee paper retained their jobs is not remarkable at all --- that's just business-as-usual for Lee and most newspaper chains.
But what is remarkable is that the Ravalli Republic --- the 5,200 circulation paper in a town of 3,700 in the 2000 census ---- had 46 FULL AND PART-TIME STAFFERS!!

That has to be at least twice as many employees as the Quad City Times (reported circulation of 46,000) in a city of 100,000 in a metro area of 300,000 has today. Maybe two-thirds as many, I've lost count as the casualties have mounted. When I was editing the ICPC three years ago, we had seven full-time staffers and a couple correspondents (not even part time, paid by the story.) And that was supposed to be enough to cover a city of 70K or so that also is home to a world-class research university and the largest hospital system in Iowa.

Let that sink in.

Anyone that tells you that today's newspapers with today's staffing are able to do anywhere NEAR the level of reporting and watchdog work as they were able to do 15 to 20 years ago is simply lying to you.
 

CarolinaHawkeye

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Was doing a little archive searching today on a project, and came across this 2005 story about the takeover of the Pulitzer newspaper chain by Lee (hey, even a Torbee sighting in there!) and this particular part of the story hit me like a ton of bricks:



In 1999, Lee Enterprises bought another Pulitzer property: the Ravalli Republic in Hamilton, Montana, circulation 5,200. The 23 full-timers and 23 part-timers at the daily had to reapply for their jobs. Only eight got them.

Now, the fact that only about 1/3 of the news staff of that newly acquired Lee paper retained their jobs is not remarkable at all --- that's just business-as-usual for Lee and most newspaper chains.
But what is remarkable is that the Ravalli Republic --- the 5,200 circulation paper in a town of 3,700 in the 2000 census ---- had 46 FULL AND PART-TIME STAFFERS!!

That has to be at least twice as many employees as the Quad City Times (reported circulation of 46,000) in a city of 100,000 in a metro area of 300,000 has today. Maybe two-thirds as many, I've lost count as the casualties have mounted. When I was editing the ICPC three years ago, we had seven full-time staffers and a couple correspondents (not even part time, paid by the story.) And that was supposed to be enough to cover a city of 70K or so that also is home to a world-class research university and the largest hospital system in Iowa.

Let that sink in.

Anyone that tells you that today's newspapers with today's staffing are able to do anywhere NEAR the level of reporting and watchdog work as they were able to do 15 to 20 years ago is simply lying to you.
Did you watch 60 minutes Sunday night?
 

GOHOX69

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My grandpa was a newspaper journalist. I was a paperboy for the press citizen in 1982 and at the time had the largest route in Iowa City. My fondest memories are reading the paper by the river during a sunny Iowa summer. Hell, even the Daily Iowan was a great student run paper. The demise of the printed paper for some trash electronic device is sad. It will never be the same.
 
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The Tradition

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My local fish wrap has stopped home delivery on Saturdays and major holidays, and they only publish editorials on Wednesdays and Sundays (and not their own, because they don't have an editor). They run articles from other newspapers in the state (why they think I care what's happening in West Palm Beach or Naples is lost on me) and they also run the same articles multiple times or otherwise run "lifestyle" stories from the USA Today Network that have little relevance to where I live (e.g., gardening columns written by someone in USDA Zone 5).
 
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torbee

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onlyTheObvious

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Use to love going through Sunday paper.

we bought a few papers when our kids were playing sports.

buying a paper is something I would never consider at this point. I do look at them online once in a great while.

not sure what business model works going forward.
 

binsfeldcyhawk2

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@torbee

I've read a couple articles that argue the reduction in staff across the country has virtually eliminated investigative reporting and many news organizations basically rely on the internet and social media for their reporting. Is that true?
 

The Tradition

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@torbee

I've read a couple articles that argue the reduction in staff across the country has virtually eliminated investigative reporting and many news organizations basically rely on the internet and social media for their reporting. Is that true?

Our fish wrap does still cover local stories and politics. But not as much coverage as they used to provide. They still have a great sports editor and a crotchety old general observations columnist, but he's going to retire soon.

I really REALLY want to support local news, but I can see the end coming.
 

torbee

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@torbee

I've read a couple articles that argue the reduction in staff across the country has virtually eliminated investigative reporting and many news organizations basically rely on the internet and social media for their reporting. Is that true?
Absolutely. The number of news stories that are literally just word-for-word rewrites of media releases (either from companies or government entities) would disgust you. And I am speaking from experience as I see the releases I write repeated verbatim under reporter bylines all the time.
 

torbee

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Our fish wrap does still covers local stories and politics. But not as much coverage as they used to provide. They still have a great sports editor and a crotchety old general observations columnist, but he's going to retire soon.

I really REALLY want to support local news, but I can see the end coming.
And Florida newspapers are probably in the best shape of any in the country. Lots of old retirees (the key newspaper subscriber demographic now), a history of excellent watchdog coverage due to Florida's liberal "sunshine" laws and good competition historically between papers.

If it's bad there, it is atrocious everywhere else.
 

binsfeldcyhawk2

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Absolutely. The number of news stories that are literally just word-for-word rewrites of media releases (either from companies or government entities) would disgust you. And I am speaking from experience as I see the releases I write repeated verbatim under reporter bylines all the time.
That's not good :(
 

torbee

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That's not good :(
When I was a reporter back in the day, we were explicitly told to NEVER put our byline on a story if we hadn't conducted at least one phone or in-person interview with a live source. Now, it's BAU. And yeah, it's not good --- it's really a complete abrogation of journalistic ethics, but hey, whose paying attention?
 

torbee

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I still get my daily paper - currently the Philadelphia Inquirer. Newspapers have been, for decades, the best place to get thorough and accurate information. That people now get their "news" from Twitter and Facebook is not just sad, it's dangerous.
Major metro dailies like the Inquirer (for the most part) are still quite well-funded and staffed. At least compared to mid-size and small papers. Some are shells of themselves (hello Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times) and some are still doing world-class work (New York Times, Wall Street Journal.)
 
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ThorneStockton

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I suppose it's a number of factors. Too late to figure out how to monetize their content online between ads and paywalls. I'm sure some people became satisfied with alternative news sources, or just no news at all.

I subscribe to one hyper local journalism outlet, but besides that, I reckon I'm part of the problem. I don't subscribe to either large local newspaper but do subscribe to the NYT and WaPo. Probably not a good thing that I'm more "informed" regarding national news versus local news....
 

torbee

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While I respect those who have stayed in the business due to their work ethic, sense of loyalty and commitment --- at this point I think remaining in what is a dying industry in a rapidly accelerating death spiral is a mistake.
If you aren't the captain, what is the point of going down with the ship? To be a martyr?

The run is over. Outside of the major metro dailies, the industry is irrecoverable and will never be able to be either profitable or perform its watchdog role if remaining under a for-profit model.

I am 100 percent on board with something new --- whether its investigative journalism funded via non-profits (like the Iowa Capital Dispatch that employs many excellent former Gannett and Lee reporters) or a digital effort modeled after National Public Radio or something else.

But as it stands now, I think supporting chains like Gannett, Gatehouse, Lee, Alden, etc. actually does more to hurt democracy and "journalism" long term than not supporting them. That is why I will not spend my money on products from those companies. They have abused the public trust, deviated from their mission and ruined thousands and thousands of careers. I can't support that.
 

BelemNole

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The Sac Bee used to be a great newspaper. I saw the Sunday editon a few weeks back and was shocked - it was about a half inch thick. I remember growing up with Washington Post Sunday editions that were 3" plus.
 
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hwk23

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This is actually a good point. The move from traditional newspapers has had a big impact on integrity. There are a lot of misleading headlines these days. I see it all the time. If that happened previously, I have to believe people would have known where to direct their complaints.

Newspapers didn't want to lose subscribers so they had a strong incentive to retain their reputation, to be moderate, impartial. Now media is focused on target markets and shock factor. Not everyone, but it seems to be the trend.
 
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ft254

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The conservative world is buying up the entire print media world as they have the TV and radio markets for the specific purpose of control of content. This is a non-reversable trend, coupled with the mega fortunes available and the social conditioning already perpetrated on an expanding propagandized and manipulated population.

Take the safeguards the media provides with investigative reporting against local and regional criminal abuses. Without curious reporters seeking out news stories there would be not safeguards. No one wondering why a city official's son is making 250,000 a year for not working, or even find out for that matter.

The free press is the nation's unpaid, unappreciated doorstop. And the far right knows it. And they want it eliminated. They are spending megabillions to eliminate it. Another ingredient in their recipe to dismantle the country.
 

LuteHawk

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For many decades, advertising was the main source of
income for newspapers. That source has slowly dried up
with no new source of income for the newspapers. Paid
subscribers of course have gone down as the papers have
gone done in quality and quantity of reported news.

Bottom Line: Newspapers are dying a financial death.
 

torbee

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The conservative world is buying up the entire print media world as they have the TV and radio markets for the specific purpose of control of content. This is a non-reversable trend, coupled with the mega fortunes available and the social conditioning already perpetrated on an expanding propagandized and manipulated population.

Take the safeguards the media provides with investigative reporting against local and regional criminal abuses. Without curious reporters seeking out news stories there would be not safeguards. No one wondering why a city official's son is making 250,000 a year for not working, or even find out for that matter.

The free press is the nation's unpaid, unappreciated doorstop. And the far right knows it. And they want it eliminated. They are spending megabillions to eliminate it. Another ingredient in their recipe to dismantle the country.
I don't think this is some nefarious right-wing conspiracy. The vast preponderance of problems in the industry are self-induced. The trend you speak of is more akin to carrion eaters picking off the last remaining scraps of a dead animal.
 
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Nole Lou

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I suppose it's a number of factors. Too late to figure out how to monetize their content online between ads and paywalls. I'm sure some people became satisfied with alternative news sources, or just no news at all.

I subscribe to one hyper local journalism outlet, but besides that, I reckon I'm part of the problem. I don't subscribe to either large local newspaper but do subscribe to the NYT and WaPo. Probably not a good thing that I'm more "informed" regarding national news versus local news....

The biggest reason to me is the death of classifieds. Craigslist and Monster.com pretty much alone could be responsible for mortally wounding newspapers. All the other moves made in response by the industry...the good ones, the bad ones, the well conceived but fruitless ones...just didn't much matter when you pulled out the rug on classifieds. If you are not old enough to remember real newspapers, you just have no idea how many classifieds were in the paper. Pretty much the entirety of employment recruiting and car sales ran through your local paper. Huge thick sections of classifieds every Sunday.

I have fond memories of the newspaper. I remember when a medium sized city like Buffalo actually had two dailies, the Buffalo Evening News and the Courier Express, and when the Courier Express folded, the Buffalo News had both a morning and evening edition. And they were thick. Now when I visit, they're lighter than my neighborhood pennysaver was in the 1980s. It's hard to justify subscribing to that, for the paper waste alone.
 

torbee

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The biggest reason to me is the death of classifieds. Craigslist and Monster.com pretty much alone could be responsible for mortally wounding newspapers. All the other moves made in response by the industry...the good ones, the bad ones, the well conceived but fruitless ones...just didn't much matter when you pulled out the rug on classifieds. If you are not old enough to remember real newspapers, you just have no idea how many classifieds were in the paper. Pretty much the entirety of employment recruiting and car sales ran through your local paper. Huge thick sections of classifieds every Sunday.

I have fond memories of the newspaper. I remember when a medium sized city like Buffalo actually had two dailies, the Buffalo Evening News and the Courier Express, and when the Courier Express folded, the Buffalo News had both a morning and evening edition. And they were thick. Now when I visit, they're lighter than my neighborhood pennysaver was in the 1980s. It's hard to justify subscribing to that, for the paper waste alone.
And newspapers could have immediately jumped in and DOMINATED that burgeoning digital space, but paper owners were too lazy and greedy and figured it was a flash-in-the-pan.

I'll never forget going to my publisher with a guy I knew from the tech industry in 2001 and trying to pitch what would have been a sort of local ebay type product --- and this was at a newspaper company that was ALSO AN INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER!! He said "Too expensive to start and no one would trust it like they do the print product." SMH.
 

ft254

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I don't think this is some nefarious right-wing conspiracy. The vast preponderance of problems in the industry are self-induced. The trend you speak of is more akin to carrion eaters picking off the last remaining scraps of a dead animal.

The crisis in the print industry did not start with external efforts to destroy it. It became vulnerable, things started to crumble, and the vultures are moving in. Competition, subscription loss, etc.
 
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Titus Andronicus

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It seems to me that to a certain extent magazines are picking up the slack. This is an "Observation in progress," but I have been finding myself reading online articles from Vanity Fair, Vogue, and the various Womens' magazines that my wife subscribes to. Aside from the New Yorker (and GQ), these articles seem to be less biased than say the NY Times.

At this point, (She gets the hard copy magazines, so I have access to the online versions.) I can read past the bias anyway so perhaps I am just unaware, but this has me wondering. They do assume a left-leaning readership, but they are not blatant about it. The quality of the writing is much higher in my view. Blanks do get filled in.

Vanity Fair offered great coverage of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Their Johnny Depp stuff was thorough enough and the Ukraine "On-the-ground" stuff which includes lot of pictures, is good. They even provided lots of insights into the Mega-Yacht industry with pictures of all of the seized yachts and of their owners.

Plus, we get absolutely blasted with email articles from all of these publishers.

That industry inundates us with solicitations for subscriptions, renewals and (get this) trial subscriptions to new magazines. It seems to be mounting a stronger response to the above outlined issues than does the newspaper industry.

I never see any insights into the efforts of the magazine industry, so this is simply mussing ... but I am curious what is going on there.

Are we gradually switching over to reading magazines? for daily news content?
 
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torbee

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It seems to me that to a certain extent magazines are picking up the slack. This is an "Observation in progress," but I have been finding myself reading online articles from Vanity Fair and the various Womens' magazines that my wife subscribes to. Aside from the New Yorker (and GQ), these articles seem to be less biased than say the NY Times.

At this point, (She gets the hard copy magazines, so I have access to the online versions.) I can read past the bias anyway so perhaps I am just unaware, but this has me wondering. They do assume a left-leaning readership, but they are not blatant about it. The quality of the writing is much higher in my view. Blanks do get filled in.

Vanity Fair offered great coverage of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Their Johnny Depp stuff was thorough enough and even the Ukraine "On-the-ground" stuff which includes lot of pictures, is good. Plus we get absolutely blasted with email articles from all of these publishers.

That industry inundates us with solicitations for subscriptions, renewals and (get this) trial subscriptions to new magazines. It seems to be mounting a stronger response to the above outlined issues than does the newspaper industry.

I never see any insights into the efforts of the magazine industry, so this is simply mussing ... but I am curious what is going on there.

Are we gradually switching over to reading magazines?
The interesting thing is, we might actually be in one of the best-ever eras for good, in-depth, thoughtful reporting on national politics and other issues, much of it as you note being done by large national magazines (and the few large metro dailies that are still well-funded).

The big problem is down at the local level. We should expect to see a huge uptick in corruption at the state and local level as there is literally almost no one left paying attention. Of course, how will we ever know about it?
 

Titus Andronicus

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The interesting thing is, we might actually be in one of the best-ever eras for good, in-depth, thoughtful reporting on national politics and other issues, much of it as you note being done by large national magazines (and the few large metro dailies that are still well-funded).

The big problem is down at the local level. We should expect to see a huge uptick in corruption at the state and local level as there is literally almost no one left paying attention. Of course, how will we ever know about it?
To your point, we just today came through Primary Season in Nevada. In preparation for voting, I usually review each and every candidate over a period of time just ahead of the voting. Never before has this information been as sparse and unfiltered as was the case this year. Even our local paper, the Review Journal seemed to provide mostly hit-and-miss coverage of the candidates.

I actually feel less well-informed than in past years. I did manage to find candidates willing to take on the voting corruption in Nevada (Every single one in every race made this promise.) but who knows. Mostly I ended up relying on the post-card sized mailers from the candidates themselves. The ones who packed the most into the least amount of space and who ignored their churches and their military achievements tended to get my vote.

In any event, you are highlighting an important issue of the day - access to honest and reliable news. I hope this thread goes for a bit.
 
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ft254

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It seems to me that to a certain extent magazines are picking up the slack. This is an "Observation in progress," but I have been finding myself reading online articles from Vanity Fair, Vogue, and the various Womens' magazines that my wife subscribes to. Aside from the New Yorker (and GQ), these articles seem to be less biased than say the NY Times.

At this point, (She gets the hard copy magazines, so I have access to the online versions.) I can read past the bias anyway so perhaps I am just unaware, but this has me wondering. They do assume a left-leaning readership, but they are not blatant about it. The quality of the writing is much higher in my view. Blanks do get filled in.

Vanity Fair offered great coverage of the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Their Johnny Depp stuff was thorough enough and even the Ukraine "On-the-ground" stuff which includes lot of pictures, is good. They even provided lots of insights into the Mega-Yacht industry with pictures of all of the seized yachts who their owners were/are.

Plus, we get absolutely blasted with email articles from all of these publishers.

That industry inundates us with solicitations for subscriptions, renewals and (get this) trial subscriptions to new magazines. It seems to be mounting a stronger response to the above outlined issues than does the newspaper industry.

I never see any insights into the efforts of the magazine industry, so this is simply mussing ... but I am curious what is going on there.

Are we gradually switching over to reading magazines? for daily news content?

Newspapers, depending upon their area of coverage depend on service feeds outside their area. This has historically required access to AP, UPI, and/or other sources. Maintaining accuracy and legitimacy is the cornerstone of journalism.

How periodic reporting/printing can ensure the same gatekeeping required to maintain accuracy and honesty would be challenging. The public's attention span is short, and errors dispensed would not be corrected timely.
 
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Titus Andronicus

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I had another thought about this:

We are actually in the midst of multiple population movements - Rural to urban, Urban to rural, cold weather to warm weather, people escaping high taxation, people retiring, immigration, illegal immigration, and on and on. It seems that half the country has very little in the way of "Roots" planted in their local communities.

Maybe the interest in local news is in a countertrend.

................................................................................

The Kardashians are the neighbors of the 21st Century in a sense.
 

torbee

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I had another thought about this:

We are actually in the midst of multiple population movements - Rural to urban, Urban to rural, cold weather to warm weather, people escaping high taxation, people retiring, immigration, illegal immigration, and on and on. It seems that half the country has very little in the way of "Roots" planted in their local communities.

Maybe the interest in local news is in a countertrend.

................................................................................

The Kardashians are the neighbors of the 21st Century in a sense.
Sad but probably accurate
 

ft254

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I had another thought about this:

We are actually in the midst of multiple population movements - Rural to urban, Urban to rural, cold weather to warm weather, people escaping high taxation, people retiring, immigration, illegal immigration, and on and on. It seems that half the country has very little in the way of "Roots" planted in their local communities.

Maybe the interest in local news is in a countertrend.

................................................................................

The Kardashians are the neighbors of the 21st Century in a sense.

The water shortage in the West has to be more than alarming. Hopefully engineers and scientists will find methods of economically producing water.

Incentivizing people to relocate eventually relocates problems, a societal reality.
 
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soybean

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I'm an old newspaper man myself. I had a two year gig covering Iowa Legislature in the early 1970's for a well known eastern Iowa daily. Press credentials were a source of pride back then. There was, it seemed, a daily in about every community of size back then. After my modest two year reporting gig was over the paper offered my another slot - circulation manager...which meant chasing down boys & girls to deliver the damn paper. I went into the bull semen and then the commodity brokerage biz recruiting retail brokers instead. I've often wondered what might have been for a no talent hack that could not spell and never bothered to learn punuation like me. But back then if you had a bit of guts and a willingness to learn is was not that hard to get a shot.

BTW - I should add that back then every other kid at Iowa that I knew was going to be another Bernstein or Woodward. The best most got though was a ghost job at the Iowa City Oppressed Citizen "underground" scrap of paper. A friend from back then got hired on at a daily in Waterloo and left after 5 hard years in which he wrote thousands of paragraphs and never got a single byline. He ended up teaching HS history for 30 years before retiring. He likes to joke that he is a "recovering reporter" even after all these years. When I run into my old friends from back then I can't help but think that the old adage of "the ink gets in your blood" is really true.
 
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torbee

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I'm an old newspaper man myself. I had a two year gig covering Iowa Legislature for a well known eastern Iowa daily. Press credentials were a source of pride back then. There nwas, it seemed, a dai/ly in about every community of size back then. After my modest two year reporting gig was over the paper offered my another slot - circulation manager...which meant chasing down boys & girls to deliver the damn paper. I went into the commodity brokerage biz recruiting brokers instead. I've often wondered what might have been for a no talent hack that could not spell and never bothered to learn punuation like me. But back then if you had a bit of guts and a willingness to learn is was not that hard to get a shot.

BTW - I should add that back then every other kid at Iowa that I knew was going to be another Bernstein or Woodward. The best most got though was a ghost job at the Iowa City Oppressed Citizen "underground" scrap of paper. A friend from back then got hired on at a daily in Waterloo and left after 5 hard years in which he wrote thousands of paragraphs and never got a single byline. He ended up teaching HS history for 30 years before retiring. He likes to joke that he is a "recovering reporter" even after all these years. When I run into my old friends from back then I can't help but think that the old adage of "the ink gets in your blood" is really true.
It’s totally true Bean old buddy. I just got a pitch for a freelance magazine article accepted today. 🙂
 
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soybean

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It’s totally true Bean old buddy. I just got a pitch for a freelance magazine article accepted today. 🙂
I was once was a 20% owner in a small cirulation magazine published in Cedar Falls. It had a Editor, two writers, two sorta paid interns fron UNI, a graphic artist and a office manager. We were able to sell it in 2008 before the crash. I still have what I think is a good idea for a small book that I'll likely never launch, but if I did I would contract every single one of those positions and not even have a office. Printers are gasping for business now days and they would help put every issue to bed for you for just another nickel.
 
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BrunoMars420

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The sports reporting is the best it’s ever been by far. If you follow reliable sports reporters on Twitter and their podcasts then you are more connected to your favorite team then you could have ever hoped during the print media days. I also pay for the Athletic which is the best sports journalism out there as well imo.

For good local reporting I find that the best follows are your local news channels on FB. Keeps you up to date on the city and area but doesn’t go way in depth like they use to in the print media. I feel like I have all the tools necessary to know what is going on in my area through KWWL, the Waterloo YouTube page, and just going to the city website to browse around.
 
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torbee

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The sports reporting is the best it’s ever been by far. If you follow reliable sports reporters on Twitter and their podcasts then you are more connected to your favorite team then you could have ever hoped during the print media days. I also pay for the Athletic which is the best sports journalism out there as well imo.

For good local reporting I find that the best follows are your local news channels on FB. Keeps you up to date on the city and area but doesn’t go way in depth like they use to in the print media. I feel like I have all the tools necessary to know what is going on in my area through KWWL, the Waterloo YouTube page, and just going to the city website to browse around.
You are a good citizen. Many are woefully apathetic.
 

soybean

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torbee - When I started my weekly salary was $110 and I got another $400 a month for expenses. I was able to rent a pretty nice one bedroom near Drake for $190 a month...but I could only sign a 6 month lease because my gig only ran from December 1 to May 31. I did get a raise in my 2nd year to $120 a week, but my expense allowance did not change. In the summers I worked for a local hog farmer and got paid $175 a week. In between my first and second year I got married and after that first Christmas she begged me to just be a farmhand instead as we would have been better off by a couple hundred each month...and that was back when a couple hundred was real money.
 

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