Saturday, January 12, 2013

Keep an Eye on the OCR

  Anyone interested in the future of newspapers - and that should be everybody - should follow what's going on at the Orange County Register, where the management is spending more and more on solid reporting in an effort to lure readers. Apparently publisher Aaron Kushner realizes that the important part of newspaper is NEWS, not PAPER.
    According to press reports, Kushner has added about 75 reporters with more coming. Kushner, a Stanford graduate, is only 39 and no ink-stained copy room slave. He has a master's degree in organizational analysis, which is a good thing because he'll have an outsider's view of journalism.
    He told the Associated Press that his lack of industry experience means he hasn't been on the slippery slope of newspapers' near death experience.
     "So when we sit down and look at what's possible, our view of the world is different," he said. "We're a little crazy in that we really do believe that  we can grow this particular newspaper."
     The Alliance for Audited Media reports that the average daily circulation of the OCR rose 5.3 percent as of Sept. 30 from a year ago to 285,068 on weekdays and 387,547 on Sundays. The figures contrast with 0.2 percent decline for the industry as a whole.
     Before the end of March, Kushner's plans envision charging online access that is the same as for the print edition.
     "The value of the journalism isn't any less," he said. "The reporter isn't paid any less."
     I pray he succeeds and proves that, as Phil Davis would say in my book, that "life is a gamble and the reporter is the guy you trust so much you let him hold the stakes."
      I hope all this optimism isn't too much and too late. The main thing Kushner will have to do is establish public confidence in his product. Seems to me newspapers suffered reporter-assisted suicide a long time ago.
     Call it "liberal bias," "lockstep reporting," or whatever you want, newspapers became pretty much alike when AP inherited a news monopoly after UPI hit the financial iceberg.  During the last decades of the 20th Century, newspapers grew fat and were virtually the only gatherer and distributors of news.  That commanding position was outflanked by the Internet. Some saw the technological advances as a big plus for readers who could quickly hold reporters accountable with rapid fire commentary on their work. The reality turned out to be much different. The Internet has brought out the worst in some people who engage in outright lies or distortions. No need to mention - but I will - people who use phony names and monopolize comment threads with personal attacks. I guess no one is proud of their family name anyone. Didn't Shakespeare say something about stealing "my purse?" Kusher has to get back journalism's good name - if it ever had one.