Northfield News caught with their coverage down

fnb.jpgFamilyHealth-blue.jpgIf I were among TPTB at the Northfield Hospital or the First National Bank of Northfield, I’d be wondering why the Northfield News didn’t have a reporter or photographer cover the hospital’s grand opening (Sat. May 19) of its new FamilyHealth Medical Clinic nor the bank’s groundbreaking ceremony for its new south location.

Yes, the paper did a story about the new clinic prior to the event. And it ran a submitted photo of the bank’s groundbreaking. But why not coverage of the events themselves? These are major institutions in Northfield and major advertisers in the paper.

The paper should considering contracting with blogger Ray Cox who had the the best coverage of both events (bank post here, clinic post here), putting even the Locally Grown (post here – I missed the opening ceremony) and Northfield.org (post here) bloggers to shame.

13 thoughts on “Northfield News caught with their coverage down”

  1. Griff,

    I will bet you a coffee at the location of your choice, that you cannot get a picture of a Northfield news reporter at the VFW ceremony today.

    Get a picture, and post it, and the coffee is on me. If there is no reporter, then the coffee is on … Well, Sam Gett? 😎

  2. It’s all really very simple. The News is a business and as such has to budget its expenses very carefully. Having a photographer work on a Friday night or a Saturday or Sunday is a significant cost. You have to have a good reason. For example, a football game, where the outcome is unknown and there is wide reader interest, is a good justification. A staged public relations event is not news. The news of the new bank and the new clinic has been available and covered well for months. Photos were available, both in the paper and on the website of the businesses. The newspaper’s job was to let the public know that the events would be happening so they could choose to go. And the paper did that. Also, covering the event in advance and after would eat up space on pages that already are inadequate to hold all the news available. Two bank stories mean one other story won’t get in at all.
    Ray did a wonderful job and had a good personal and professional reason to be at the events, so it makes sense for him to be there and put coverage on his site.
    Newspapers across the country have taken this approach for decades, so it’s not some big change by the News. “Advance” coverage is the norm, unless the event itself is so newsworthy (the governor is speaking or the project itself is huge, like a new City Hall or a school).
    The paper saves its very limited resources to focus on features on people and issues and still doesn’t get to everything, as people are quick to point out.
    Holiday celebrations usually get special treatment, out of respect, but it depends on whether there is staff available. If there is one event on a three-day holiday weekend, it may not be possible to deny a staffer vacation time to cover it.
    I find it interesting that you justify coverage by saying these are major advertisers when you usually suggest the paper is pandering to advertisers.
    For the record, I have no role in the News’ decisions, I’m just speculating from an industry perspective. I don’t always like these decisions, but given the state of print publications, I understand them.

  3. Great photos. And just to clarify, I don’t think newspapers are all doing the right thing, and in fact, they’re being short-sighted in their approach sometimes. But when you have hundreds of years invested in making print work, it’s hard to cannibalize your business by inventing a new structure — one that only now is showing profit potential. It’s easy from your position, starting from the ground up in the space, without a print structure to support while you do it.
    It’s exciting to see the new approaches and attitudes, like yours, but tough to watch decent people struggling to find their place in a new world.

  4. I’m all for the loyal opposition, but there is something to be said for newspapers sticking to what newspapers do best. Bloggers will be the first to cover news as it happens. That is a fact, and an opportunity. Newspapers, especially small-town newspapers, have a responsibility (yes, a responsibility) to cover the opinions of blue-haired ladies regarding their cats. They may (which is not necessarily to say “will”) also do a better job than bloggers of taking the extra time to edit their pieces (which the NN often, not always, manages to do) and come up with lapidary lines like “Righard Goerwitz, who appeared to be instigating trouble” [at the first town planning meeting], which gave his wife and everyone at Carleton ITS quite a laugh.

  5. Thanks again, Griff, for being a watchdog of the watchdogs. In this case, though, I am not sure I fully agree with you. Some responses (with bullets for easy reading):

    • How I see it is that the hospital opening a new clinic is news. A bank opening a new branch is news. Some official sticking a ceremonial shovel in the ground, or cutting a piece of ribbon, is not news. I agree with Anne.

    • If the News wants to run a submitted grip-and-grin photo by one of the participants in the back half of the paper, fine. But as a reader I’d be pretty upset if I learned the local newspaper paid a business owner to promote his or her own business and added a blog post to its news coverage.

    • The News should or should not cover an event based on its news value, not based on advertising accounts.

    • Where I disagree with Anne is on the general perception that the News, or other similar-sized newspaper, is necessarily cash-strapped. While it’s true newspapers in recent years have seen advertising revenues fall and print costs rise, papers have long operated with profit margins that comfortably exceed that of other fruitful industries. We don’t know the News’ current profits, but I think it’s wrong to assume they are small.

    • Newspapers are not just another “business.” They ask for and depend on the public trust and, thus, I would argue, exist for reasons behind the bottom line. In fact, I am quite certain they would agree with me, as there are things they could do to make money but do not.

    • While difficult editorial decisions would exist no matter the size of the newsroom, newspapers pay reporters little money, and keep newsrooms small, because they can. If the public — and advertisers — demanded more they would probably be forced to provide it.

  6. Great points, Tom, and I agree.
    As a former newspaper union president, I know all too well the futility of arguing that profits be lowered a tad to maintain the product quality. Owners would spend more than the projected pay increases we sought to hire anti-union negotiators to defeat us. And defeat us they did, every time. As fewer and fewer reporters carried more and more responsibility it was inevitable that quality would suffer.
    Still, investors make sure the profits stay at 20 percent or more, and when they start to slip you see the wholesale destruction of fine chains like the former Knight Ridder and the decimation of newsrooms like that at the Star Tribune.
    In my comments I really was talking about the cash-strapped newsrooms, who indeed have very little flexibility in their budgets.
    The owners, even private family owners, have their own demons to fight in meeting profit expectatios.
    If newspapers were cars and cut quality to maintain profits, customers would just buy other cars. And that’s what readers are doing, as the Internet offers more options. Sadly, at the local level it is difficult to find people who will volunteer to provide the meaningful issues reporting the community deserves. Even here Griff does an amazing job but barely introduces topics and doesn’t have the resources to investigate them.
    Newspaper owners know this, and know that more people buy the paper for the Target ad and the obituaries than for government news. In this way, readers do get what exactly what they tell publishers they want.

  7. Thanks for the potential job offer Griff, but with running Northfield Construction, serving on the Community Action Center and Northfield Area Foundation boards, family life, and other miscellaneous volunteer activities….I’m going to have to pass on serving as a News reporter.

    But the comments on this issue are all good. One thing we all need to remember is that a local paper is just that…a local paper. While groundbreaking (or sticking shovels in the ground) is not necessarily a huge news item, I do think it is worth covering.

    Case in point. Northfield Construction is building a new church for a small Latino congregation in St. Paul (La Puerta Abierta) The church held a groundbreaking a week ago. Ellen and I attended as NCC representatives. This event was covered by the Mpls Strib and ended up on the front page. I thought it was great to see that coverage of this wonderful congregation. The Strib must have thought so too. (But the Pioneer Press wasn’t there.)

    So, even a big daily paper does think at least some groundbreakings are worth covering.

  8. Ray, I read the clips and I can tell you why the Strib was there. This was a small Latino congregation in the Methodist Church, unusual when most Latino congregations are Catholic. The founding pastor died of a rare disease a year ago, pushing the congregation to finish his dream of raising $2 million to move the congregation from an old house to a real church. And they had gorgeously photogenic little kids in church robes smiling and dancing. I’d say that was a heart-tugger few editors could pass up. No offense, but the two events in Northfield were the culmination of a process that had been covered pretty thoroughly (although if you had worn costumes and dances with photogenic small children it might have made a difference. Heck, I might have come to see that.:-) Can’t figure why the Pioneer Press passed, but I didn’t see their front page that Sunday. We always had a huge list of events and could cover only one or two — none if there was a fire or accident or other mayhem. Sad truth, people like mayhame.

  9. Unlike the metros, small town/regional newspaper companies like Huckle are doing VERY well financially. I blogged about this back in March.

    More and more newspapers are teaming up with local citizens/bloggers to post/print their content. And one new newspaper, BostonNow, is entirely filled with content from local bloggers. (See this NY Times piece on it.)

    I’d be thrilled if the Northfield News asked to use my photos taken from an event that they couldn’t cover.

  10. If newspapers were cars and cut quality to maintain profits, customers would just buy other cars. And that’s what readers are doing, as the Internet offers more options.

    Anne, to me that sounds like confusion between the quantity of possible information on the Internet with true alternative “options” for journalism, which are small on a statewide/national level and, with few exceptions, almost nonexistent on the local level. The number of blogs could double overnight, but it seems to me that if the nature or intention of those blogs remains the same we’d be no less served, journalistically speaking, than we are today. Most bloggers are not doing what Griff does well (despite the limitations you described and I agree exist).

    Sadly, at the local level it is difficult to find people who will volunteer to provide the meaningful issues reporting the community deserves.

    Volunteerism is a requirement only if we make it one. As a community we value having a public library. We don’t expect that library to function entirely on the backs of volunteers. If a thriving community — readers, advertisers and newspaper owners — values journalism there’s no reason reporters can’t make a living wage (and do their jobs capably for longer than 15 months at a clip) while the newspaper turns a profit.

    I agree with you that if the public is most interested in Target ads and obits that’s what we receive. Which means that if you want something more from the only outfit in town that currently has the means to cover the city thoroughly and properly the newspaper needs to hear that you value relevant journalism as much or more than you value shiny advertising about patio furniture.

    We speak loudest through our subscriptions and our advertising dollars. And, I am trying to argue (likely unsuccessfully), there is plenty of both to support “reporting the community deserves.”

    Thanks to those who have weighed in on this issue — I appreciate all views expressed on what I think is an important topic.

  11. Tom, we must have a tall glass of gin with lime and discuss this further someday. So few people care about this, it is nice so see someone who does. And I admire your idealism.
    Newspapers are like department stores, and we know where they are these days. Increasingly we are not a community in the geographic sense, but a collection of communities based on interests. Thus few people want to read the same kinds of things in the paper or online. Sports fans will head to the Dukes site or Northfield Youth Sports. Those interested in ethanol will head to any of the many environmental sites. Dog lovers will head to their websites, artists will check out the NAG or sites in the Cities or professional organization sites.
    People who want to know about government will check out the city hall site and agendas or watch the meetings on cable, not needing a print story to tell them what they already saw. They can call a city councilor or stop by City Hall and get an answer to their questions.
    I barely skim the paper and never read the ads, and I read the Target ad online at the Target site, saving paper. I read Salon and Slate and the Strib and a dozen other sites online.
    The trend in print is to create free publications supported by advertising. That’s why Rob S. is doing the Entertainment Guide and a Real Estate Guide and isn’t doing local sports or club news — very costly to collect news and no ads to support the effort. And even with ads, real entertainment reporting would sink the budget.
    In a way that leaves a lot of people without a voice, but the Internet gives those with passion a way to speak for themselves.
    Anyway, this is way too long and there’s way too much to involved. Pick a night and let’s all continue this on the deck of the Cow.

  12. Nlfd News publisher Sam Gett has an editorial in today’s paper addressing this issue:

    When it comes to events, newspapers typically prefer to devote reporting time and energy to advance coverage so readers enjoy the opportunity to attend. We’d rather not hear readers lamenting that they missed out on a good time because they weren’t aware of it. If your organization is planning an event, please notify us as far in advance as possible. And don’t be afraid to follow up to make sure we received the information.

    Just because we promote an event in advance doesn’t mean we won’t show up to cover it as well. However, multiple factors determine which events receive coverage: including what else is happening that day. If we can’t make it ourselves, we’ll happily publish a submitted photo. So, take your camera, snap away and send us your best shots.

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