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Are your satisfied with your media?

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

Why do the corporate types who run so much of the nation's media want to eat their young?

I had the pleasure of covering the "Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar" in New York recently, the annual two-day event in which talk show producers, hosts and syndicators meet to discuss the industry.

"Talkers Magazine," by the way, is published right here in Springfield and is considered the Bible of that industry.

Being a former radio guy, I find this event very interesting. It's fascinating to see the parallels between what is happening in radio and what is happening in newspapers.

There are several points common to both mediums. One is that corporate owners have gutted the resources many stations need to produce the programming people want to hear.

The other is that what draws people to radio is good local programming.

There's a nice contradiction.

"Talkers Magazine" publisher Michael Harrison shared hisformula for survival: investing in local talent and solid programming.

His remarks were well received. Clearly, the folks at the conference understood what he was saying.

Sadly, the same advice should be given to newspapers.

According to a report in this month's New England Press Association newsletter, paid circulation for daily newspapers have dropped. Could it be that newspapers execs, in an effort to bring the bottom line up to the demands of their corporate masters, have cut away at the very things that have attracted readers?

I would love to hear the reasons behind weakening the very elements that attract consumers in the first place to a product. I think we have developed a short-term mentality in business that reassures people that looking beyond the next quarter isn't necessary.

A recent story in "Mother Jones" magazine argued that rates of profits for newspapers were higher than many other industries. Reports of the demise of daily newspapers may have been slightly exaggerated. I'm not sure to what end as all of these doom and gloom stories may have persuaded some advertisers to take their business elsewhere.

In response to the "crisis," many newspapers have placed their hopes on creating products that are not traditional daily print products. There's some wisdom there. It's good to seek out ancillary markets that bolster your core mission.

But is the core mission of daily newspapers still producing a daily news product? For some publications, I would argue, it isn't. The mission has shifted.

Too many media entities have placed a whole lot of eggs into the Internet basket. That's fine, but there are still issues to web sites about attracting enough eyeballs to justify advertising rates and attracting new readers along with established consumers.

A newspaper web site should give readers something different that adds to the print product. Theissue, there, is making an investment that might take years to recover, as the Internet is still a medium in its infancy.

What does this issue mean to consumers? To maintain the republic, people need information about the town and state in which they live, much less the nation. It's difficult for people to know what's going on if the amount of local news in newspapers, and on radio and television has been cut in effort to grow some fat cat's paycheck. Manipulation of the masses is a lot easier if people don't have the information they need to make decisions.

What can people do? Write the publishers and station managers about dissatisfaction with their local news vehicle. Too many wire reports? Too many weather forecasts? Too many Paris Hilton stories? Not enough real news?

Consumers need to be vocal about their news. Granted there are local publishers (well, at least one) who doesn't accept criticism very well and will belittle readers who express a negative opinion. Don't let that bother you.

Support the publications and stations that have made a commitment to local news. Let us know (yes, I think we've made a commitment to local news) what you like and what you don't like. And please patronize advertisers who finance local news vehicles.

The opinions expressed here are only those of the author.