One for all or all for one?
One of our favorite stories comes from a conversation overheard at a civic club meeting a few years back.
One member — a bit of an intellectual — was talking about a book he read over the weekend.
Another — not similarly inclined — interjected: “A whole book? I haven’t read a whole book since high school.”
“Actually,” the first man responded, “I read two this weekend.”
Everybody’s different. That’s one of the beauties of this world. Some people read a lot. Some people read a lot less. Newspapers recognize this and try to give you choices about how much you want to read.
Each week we typically write about the same number of words that would fill half a standard novel, but we break those words up into many, much shorter pieces. You choose whether you read it all or just the parts most interesting to you.
We’re a lot like streaming video or DVRs. You can binge on everything or fast-forward from one interesting part to the next.
For nearly two decades, we’ve been producing not one but three newspapers each week — one for the county as a whole; one focused on Peabody, Burns, and the southeastern part of the county; and one focused on Hillsboro, Goessel, and the southwestern portion of the county.
We always thought it made sense. People in each of those areas pretty much stuck to their hometowns. Their jobs, their families, their sports teams, even where they went out to dinner all typically were pretty close to home. What happened in one part of the county didn’t have much impact elsewhere in the county.
But we’re beginning to wonder whether that might be changing. We’ve seen it in our advertising, much of which runs in all three of our papers. We’ve seen it in our news, especially when a reader of one of our papers remarks to a cross-county friend about something he read, only to find that the story appears only in his paper, not in his friend’s.
We’ve also watched a trend play out in other communities. El Dorado and Augusta used to have separate papers; now they have one. The same was true for Winfield and Ark City. It’s also happened among communities in McPherson County and Harvey County.
A lot of those moves were dictated economically. Big chains try to boost profits by cutting back not only on printing but also on reporting. That’s something we’ll never do. Nor will we start sending our paper to be edited and designed in places like Austin, Texas, by people who’ve never set foot in the state and couldn’t tell Mud Creek from Clear Creek if their lives depended on it.
Still, we sometimes wonder whether we’re wrong. We’d never do what the big chains do. The fact there’s been no Lincolnville Lance for a century doesn’t keep us from covering Centre school. The fact that there’s been no Florence Bulletin for half a century doesn’t keep us away from the Florence City Council. In both cases, our reporters typically find themselves as the only members of the media covering those communities, but that’s fine by us.
We do, however, worry that from time to time we aren’t giving all our readers all our best news coverage. Although many of the 30 statewide awards we won last week were for things that appeared in more than just the Record, some of them did not.
If we ever were to combine our papers into a fatter, more polished product for the whole county, we’d have more time to create even more coverage like that and wouldn’t cheat readers out of their chance to have the best, most complete product available — whether they chose to read every word of it, as if it were half a novel, or plan to skip around and read only the parts they’re most interested in.
Unlike the profiteering chains, money never has been what we worry about. The real question is what you, our readers, want. We may be the people who produce the papers each week, but they aren’t our papers. They’re yours. They exist to serve you. We’re just the trustees of an institution that exists not to turn a profit but to keep our communities vibrant and informed.
We’re not contemplating doing anything about it anywhere in the near future, but it’s been a while since we asked. So we want to know: What’s your pleasure? Would you rather have one bigger, better paper, with all the material from all three of papers each week? Or would you prefer to continue having three separate papers, each sharing some but not all of our award-winning content and preserving the names of three separate towns in their nameplates?
We want to hear from the most important people involved — you, our faithful readers. Drop us a line at 117 S 3rd St, Marion KS 66681; email us at email@example.com; or let any of our staffers know how you feel next time you see them out and about in our communities.
Three Musketeers candy bars used to feature three different flavors of candy. Should we continue to do the same with our paper, or go as the candy bar did with one bigger and tastier treat?
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Feb. 12, 2020