Reconnecting with our communities key to health of newspaper industry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The weekend brought yet another obituary for one of America’s major newspapers.

This time it was the Rocky Mountain News but nationally, at least a dozen other metropolitan newspapers are threatened with collapse as advertising revenue shrinks and debts mount. The Hearst Corp. announced last week that it would sell or close the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s only daily newspaper, and has also put the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale.

In December, the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last week, Philadelphia Newspapers, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, also filed for bankruptcy. The two Detroit newspapers, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, cut their home delivery in December to three days a week and cut deep into staff in an effort to stay afloat.

While there have been some casualties in smaller markets, such as the River Parishes, by-and-large the victims have been larger papers — metros, to use industry jargon.

So, how is it that newspapers can survive in this high-tech world? First, if I had the absolute answer to that question I’d be living someplace where neither the mountains nor the beach were very far away and there wouldn’t be a bill-paying session at the supper table every couple of weeks.

But there is an answer and, as the staff at L’Observateur can tell you, I believe it lies in what I call the six most important letters in the world … LNLFLA.

What does it mean? Local names, local faces and local activities, and those three things should be the bread and butter for every newspaper in the country. Even the metros have tried it and many of us see it every day in the zoned edition of the New Orleans daily, which drops a couple of “local” stories on a “local” section front and packages it with the rest of the product for distribution.

But what I’m talking about is to be serious about the approach. Instead of a couple of stories out of a couple of hundred being tied to a specific area, I’m talking about a local newspaper that strives to be the source of local news and information for its readers and advertisers.

I can tell you that’s what we’re working toward becoming here at your newspaper, and it’s what we should be. Having spent two days a week in LaPlace since mid-December, one of the things that became a concern to me was the lack of telephone calls we were getting … the lack of visitors we were receiving and an apparent lack of communications with the outside world.

We’ve been working to change that and will continue to do so. We want you to need L’Observateur as a part of your life and for us to effectively do that, we need to go beyond meeting your basic needs for news and information.

We want to hear from you. We’ll take “no news is good news” if you don’t contact us, but when we fall short of your expectations we want you to let us know. That’s the only way we can improve and become a newspaper that you consider necessary … and in a small market, a newspaper that’s necessary can partner with its neighbors and friends and survive tough economic times.

John H. Walker is editor and publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at 652-9545 or