So last night, I went to the monthly meeting of Quills & Quibbles writers’ group at the Harrison County Public Library. Lee Cable, formerly of The Corydon Democrat, was our guest speaker. A long time contributing feature writer who also covered local politics and other news, Cable has recently retired and is going to be publishing a book called Stop the Presses, about the newspaper industry.
As an internet writer, I found his perspective on the impact of the web on small town newspapers poignant and refreshing. One point he kept reiterating was the importance of storytelling in emotionally connecting readers to the news. He put a lot of emphasis on finding the bigger story beyond the bald facts, and that makes him a writer after my own heart.
In all honesty, some of the blame for the slashed budgets and staff at newspapers belongs with the “free information” ethos of the internet age. If any industry was caught more unprepared for the impact the internet was going to have than the music industry, the newspaper industry is definitely it. Some of the responsibility also belongs with editorial mandates to stick slavishly to a journalistic style guide that didn’t provide enough local flavor and unique character to keep their material from becoming a commodity.
I thought it was a little ironic. In their attempt to imitate the editorial standards of larger national papers, small town weekly papers have possibly shot themselves in the foot. They’ve given away their most compelling attribute: a truly local, intimate, personal and yet still professional perspective on community news.
It was a fascinating and engaging conversation with a professional writer who is watching his entire medium attempt to strip itself down and rebuild itself like Steve Austin. A few members of Q&Q suggested that he should look into blogging. I hope he does.