The Edmond Sun

August 28, 2013

Journalism's golden age meets its golden opportunity

By Carol Stark
CNHI News Service

— There’s something reassuring about columnist Paul Greenberg’s prophecy this week about a “new, wide-open, freer era of journalism.”

I always enjoy Greenberg’s columns, particularly the ones where he signs off as “Inky Wretch.” The 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner has been around long enough that indeed he probably does have ink in his veins.

And he’s not the only one who is bullish about the future of the press.

His message echoes one I’ve listened to several times in recent weeks as the sale of The Washington Post has some waxing nostalgic, while others are excited about the possibilities of what’s being referred to as “the golden opportunity.”

That’s what Bill Ostendorf, a former Providence Journal graphics and photo editor, thinks newspapers — or news services, if you will — hold in their hands right now.

Ostendorf delivers webinars for newspapers in which he debunks some long-held newsroom schools of thought, such as the idea that there’s no way that newspapers can ever be as good as they once were. Ostendorf calls B.S. on that with reminders of boring, gray, stodgy pages.

As I listened to his brutally honest assessment, one thing really caught my interest. The one thing he thought newspapers did better once upon a time was to serve readers’ varied interests. Newspapers embraced communities of readers much like what HGTV and the Food Network do today.

Maybe we should have kept loving our readers more.

A local columnist recently wrote about newspapers and “the big news” of the day. Yet, ask 10 people what they consider the “big news,” and it’s likely, depending on age and interests, that you will receive 10 different answers.

How does today’s press even begin to speak to all those readers? By combining a top-drawer print product with unique digital products and social media and making it a whole new ballgame.

On Aug. 5, the day The Washington Post sale to Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos was announced, staff members were as stunned as readers, according to Post columnist David Ignatius.

On a recent “Meet The Press” panel about the future of journalism, Ignatius discussed the despair at the Post that the paper would no longer be owned by the Graham family, who had been at the helm for 80 years.

Ignatius said it wasn’t until a few hours later that it started dawning on the staff that the resources that Bezos would be bringing to the Post would be practically endless, as would the opportunities to recreate the news in a way that perhaps would be even better than it ever has been.

That’s exciting.

I know, I don’t work for the Washington Post, but I recently sat next to a former Post editor while in New York where I accepted the Mirror Award on behalf of The Missouri Press Association for the documentary film on The Joplin Globe called “Deadline in Disaster.”

Her take on the future of the press was the same as Greenberg’s. The reinvention of the newsroom is going to be an exciting ride.

So, was sitting in a room filled with cigarette smoke in 1976 and banging out copy on an old typewriter really the “good old days”?

Some may remember it that way, but take it from me — it wasn’t.

As I rapidly approach my 37th year in the newspaper business, I still wake up every day with that sense that something exciting is going to happen and that my staff and I are going to be a part of bringing you that story.

I think the real “good old days” are yet to come.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin (Mo.) Globe. Email her at cstark@joplinglobe.com.