Earlier today, I posted part of an email from county commish Bill James. He told us that The Observer is operating without a reporter covering county gov’t. Since then, I’ve heard from O honcho Rick Thames, who assures me that is not true: “We’ve already named Emily Achenbaum to the county beat, and Steve Harrison to the Transportation beat. Both of these reporters will be superb in these roles.”
But that’s not the interesting part. Here’s the interesting part: I Googled Emily’s name to learn more about her, and I found this fascinating article by Carl Sessions Stepp from the April/May 2007 issue of American Journalism Review. In it, Stepp, who began his journo career at The O 30 years ago, interviews a bunch of twenty-something Observer reporters, and they have some very interesting things to say. Among them:
“I came here to work for a company that doesn’t exist anymore,” transportation reporter Richard Rubin, 28, who joined the paper in 2001, told me in January. “I’ve got 39 years until Social Security checks start coming in. Is Social Security going to be there in 39 years? Will the newspaper industry be there in 39 years? I’ve started to think about it that way, and it is daunting.”
“Out of all my friends, single or married, about my age, one of them gets the paper, and he only gets it on weekends,” says reporter Deborah Hirsch, 24, who covers adjacent York County, South Carolina. “Everybody thinks it’s cool to know a reporter, but when it comes to do they really care or are they reading on a daily basis, the answer is no.”
While several still swear by ink-on-paper, most of those I interviewed prefer to read the paper online. Several admitted neglecting or not even subscribing to the paper version. “I subscribe,” says clerk-reporter Emily Benton, 24, “but I’ll be honest. They pile up outside my door on weekdays.”
Emily Achenbaum, based in nearby Union County, thinks newspapers will eventually become the kind of specialty mementoes “you get through a Vermont country store that tracks down old items.” Belated attempts to lure the young through blogs and entertainment features are “doomed,” she says. “They always feel like the not-cool kids trying to force the cool kids to be their friends.”
Outside the meeting room, the Observer devotes about 14 journalists full time to the Web, with regular contributions from the paper’s news staff of about 250. Managing Editor Cheryl Carpenter, 49, knows her young staff members would like to see even more energy flowing into the Web. But she is quick to show me a chart showing where the paper’s advertising revenue comes from–far more from print than online.
And there’s a bunch more stuff like that. It’s really a fascinating, rare inside look at The Observer newsroom. My two cents on the article: Neither the young bucks nor the old steeds seem to get it. The young ones want hip, edgy content on Page 1A. The established crowd wants to get on the internets and the blogs, but is afraid of jeopardizing the print product. But I don’t think it’s about being hip and edgy, and the print product has already been jeopardized (The O continues to eke out circ gains, but it would be difficult not to gain as fast as this market is growing). Just produce great journalism, of all types, in whatever medium people want it, then get out of the way.