Coming soon, the future of local news

The entire time I have worked in the news media business, be it television, newspapers or online, the number one question people ask is not is print dying, but how long before it dies. Unfortunately s newspapers die off communities are left with what are called news deserts, in other words they have no local news. Sure you can get gossip on Facebook but without journalists who are objective verifying facts and interviewing local sources, those posts run the risk of being flagged as fake news, and with the rampant fake news epidemic facing our culture right now that’s best to avoid

I have been struggling with a way to combing traditional news media practices, beat news reporting, local human interest stories, covering local topics, holding local government’s accountable and generally doing all the things a typical print newspaper would do. Nobody I have met considers the local news station (broadcast TV) as any less important or legit as the local newspaper for delivering local interest stories. The problem there is broadcast news has to cover such a wide area to make money, and is facing such stiff competition from digital outlets like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc., we’re seeing local news stations struggle, close or consolidate in the same manner as the local newspapers. A democracy cannot flourish without news organizations informing the public what their government officials are doing, what their schools are up to, where their tax money is going, not without professionally trained journalists doing the work to get that information out to them.

It’s been a catch 22 for about 20 or so years for newspapers and local news stations alike. How do you produce expensive content on decreasing advertising dollars without deteriorating the quality of your product? If you make it available for free online you run the risk of giving away your product and not being able to make any money, or do you? I propose a different business model that will target the Millennials and their younger counterparts who are increasingly looking to digital as an alternative. Local TV news needs to give way to a locally produced newscast, distributed entirely on YouTube. Advertising dollars can be had via sponsors contained within the program, not traditional pre roll or post roll ads you have to share with Google. Yes, of course for the free web hosting YouTube provides let them get the pre and post roll ads, but you can take charge of the content with sponsored videos. However this only works for replacing the local broadcast affiliate, which I strongly believe is the future. It doesn’t do much for the newspaper. This is where I am proposing a new model that will combine the best of both worlds. You will get professionally produced content, delivered digitally for free, but packaged to a confined, hyper local market that is easy to sell to advertisers. Target your audience to the local shoppers and you can get the local shops to advertise with you.

In order for this model to work you have to keep your rates in line with what they expect to pay. It has to be cheaper than print but more expensive than Google or Facebook. The flip side is you can promise them you are targeting a local market instead of throwing a wide net for pennies in hopes of catching that one or two fish who swim through. Think of it like this. If you have a local wedding dress shop that targets young ladies in a specific geographic area, you can demonstrate to that shop owner that your website, a community newspaper online or a community news blog if you will, that will entice local audiences to browse content tailored for their specific tastes, then you can convince that dress shop to run her ads on your site instead of the local print newspaper.

In order to make a weekly newspaper you need a staff of at least 1-2 people. One person creating content, the other selling ads. Sometimes you run into a situation where there is just one person doing the newspaper as a solo project, more or less as a labor of love. Every local community needs it’s own newspaper. But times have changed. You no longer need to go down to the local super market to pick up a physical copy of that newspaper in today’s world. What works best now is you use social media, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, to target the locals in the area, use those links to get them onto your site and then provide content they cannot get elsewhere. Your job is to get them to trust you enough to spend a few minutes of their day on your site, reading up on local happenings, before heading out into the vast ocean of repeat content all the national sources are fighting over. In this world getting it first is the name of the game in national media. But getting it right is still the focus of local media.

That is why instead of investing money in a local print publication. I am going to build a series of local community news sites, newspapers or blogs that exist entirely in a digital space but treat them no different than if I was running a local newspaper. The difference is like night and day. First, you have more time to craft stories without being limited to a hard deadline. A weekly newspaper that has to print once a week has to make sure all content is packaged and done before the paper can go to print. This can lead to rushing out stories that are not quite ready but are also too old to be considered news. I ran into this dilemma all the time with our Friday newspaper. In order to get a newspaper out by Friday morning I had to send it to the printers Wednesday evening. That meant my Friday paper couldn’t have anything in it newer than, at absolute most current, 5 p.m. Wednesday. Most often I was writing stories about government meetings that took place on Monday so readers wouldn’t even know how their local politicians voted to spend their money until nearly a full week after the fact. What if something newsy was happening on a Thursday? I either had to ignore it, write about it after the fact as an after thought or try to get someone in the community to contribute to the newspaper. Sure, we did this but it was gut wrenching to learn about an event on Tuesday night that was going to happen on Thursday morning but it would be impossible for your newspaper to tell people ahead of time to go to because the paper came out after the fact but was printed before. I joked with my editor it was like writing stories in the past tense about things that haven’t happened yet. It was a juggling act.

A community blog acting as a digital newspaper wouldn’t face this problem. If news happens on Tuesday, you get your reporter there on Tuesday, snap photos, interview those involved and knock out an accurate, timely story by Wednesday morning. You then get the best of both worlds, timely and accurate news without the rush of getting that printer deadline. In today’s digital age it makes no sense not to run a local blog instead of a newspaper. The hang up old newspapers have are how to get digital advertisers. The trick is to have the same ads you always had, produced in house and tailored to their specific needs, not agency ads blanketing a mass market, not low CPM affiliate ads you make pennies on. The balance is to meet in the middle. I would set up something where an advertiser could purchase a display ad to run during a certain number of articles for a fair, fixed price. Then if they liked the results  it would be easy for them to renew.

I believe the future of newspapers is digital but not the old model of make a hard copy, then upload the PDF behind a paywall. That model hasn’t worked at reaching a new audience nor is it appealing to advertisers that have left. Local news is coming back in a big way and its going to take pioneers to blend the old model with the new model and utilize tools that social media provides. In doing so an editor can provide their local community with current events and stories that interest a local market yet still attracting advertisers that target that local market without the headache of having to provide a printed product that may or may not reach the eyeballs it was meant to.

The Dark Web Podcast Episode 23- Royal Wedding, Margot Kidder, DC movies and another rant

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-j6cw7-91bb15

In this episode I take a look back at Margot Kidder passing away and her impact on the Superman legacy. I question whether or not the DC films can ever do as well as Marvel or if the whole super hero craze is gearing up to wind down. I tackled the controversy over the new Thundercats cartoon’s art style. I also give a shout out to a friend’s podcast. There might be a few surprises too so be sure to check it out, share with your friends and feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for listening.

Adjusting to the 24 hour news cycle

No matter if you work in print, digital, television or radio the one thing every journalist keeps hearing over and over is about the 24-hour news cycle. Things have heated up in recent years. How do traditional journalists trained in ‘old media’ adjust to the ever changing times?

When I began college in 2011 I signed up to study Broadcasting. At the time my interest was in film making. The closest I could get to studying film at the university I was attending was Broadcasting. They offered a few classes in audio and video production. I set out to minor in Theater with the intention of meeting actors and other players who I could team up with in my endeavors. By the end of my second semester everything changed. I took a class in introductory news writing and photography. Combined with a course in media software (Photoshop and InDesign specifically) I slowly began to increase my interest in becoming a journalist.

The first time I went out into the field to cover a story I was nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. I put in my best effort, (I was still very shy and anti social at this time) and I earned a B- on my story. This was not a bad grade in my mind but below the threshold for publication. That meant all my hard work was for nothing. That didn’t stop me from trying again. I decided the second story I would really contemplate my professors advice and find a subject more interesting to the readers.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a story I wrote, along with photos I took, printed in my college newspaper. The feeling was tremendous. Still, it wasn’t yet enough to snap me out of the delusion I would get into film but it gave me a hunger I had not felt before.

I continued my education with a new slant. This time I was more determined to have a more realistic fall back. So I changed my minor from Theater to Political Science. I had always been interested in politics so it was a natural fit. My advisor felt that if I followed a career in the news media field politics would be my strength.

By the time I left college things had changed. We witnessed the death of Osama Bid Laden, the rise of Al Jazeera as an alternative news outlet and YouTube was increasingly becoming important to the spread of information. In 2015 I landed my first job at a newspaper. This was the first time I put on a press badge around my neck. Suddenly I was transformed. No longer did I want to pursue a career in video production. I was a journalist and nothing was going to change that.

What I learned about being in the news industry is you have to hit your deadline. You have to be as accurate as humanly possible. You have to hit your deadline. Oh and you really have to be careful you don’t miss your deadline. I made the mistake of getting lax at my last job. I was working at a weekly newspaper in a small town. Sure, the work was as professional and important to our community as any other news outlet. The thing was, when you have a whole week to get our work done, deadlines become a little moving target. The publisher didn’t quite see it that way and so we ended up having to work many long hours. This taught me to be better organized. The goal was to make sure I did everything I could to get my stories completed on time. I didn’t always meet that goal but we did our best.

Another thing I learned working at a weekly newspaper was you have to know your audience. In the world of hyper local news your stories can really only be catered to that very specific audience. Otherwise it doesn’t make it to print as it won’t pique the interest of the readers. I worked in that office for 2 years and eight months. Truth be told, the money and work was such I could have stayed there for another 2 years and been fine. However, I had aspirations to do more with my life and so I gave my notice to pursue other projects.

Once I arrived back in the area I was raised things began to change. On the one hand my confidence began to grow as I knew I was fighting more experienced journalists for job interviews. On the other hand I began to slowly realize 2 and a half years at a weekly newspaper amounted to no more than 6 months worth of work at a daily newspaper. I was suddenly faced with the harsh reality I wasn’t going to be getting any new experience either until someone decided to offer me a new job. That’s when I realized I had to go the freelance route for the time being.

Once I began pitching stories as a freelance reporter the first thing I learned was I was no longer guaranteed, well anything. Priority was given to staff reporters. When I did show up to an event to cover it, I was treated no different than I had been as a staff writer for my previous publication. However I quickly learned I could invest time, effort, energy and money doing a story that the newspaper might not buy. In some cases they flat rejected the story based on lack of interest. I had never pitched stories to a daily newspaper before so naturally I was falling back on my training as a reporter for a weekly, community newspaper. Finally I got a break and one of the daily newspapers bought one of my stories.

Why am I recanting this story? Because it’s important to remember as a journalist what the market is doing. Like it or not news outlets are businesses which need to make money. Journalists are also people who need to eat, pay bills and earn a living.

As I watched news unfold on Twitter I started to remember how fast the national news media works. As a journalist working at a weekly newspaper I would often have to cover national events localized to appeal to our market. We had the luxury of being able to take our time and get the facts right. Meanwhile we had to sit back and watch the national media issue corrections, alter stories and write new stories with updated facts. The national media, in this 24-hour news cycle has to get it first, then they can get it right later. This leads to false facts getting published then being corrected or retracted. The problem is with social media it has become easier to spread the early reports, false facts and misinformation long before the hard hitting journalists have a chance to do their jobs and sort out all the noise.

Once I realized that a journalist is just a regular citizen with the protected right to share information I made a decision to make changes to my website. I want to be taken seriously as a journalist but I don’t want to be victim to the 24-hour news cycle of get it first. I want my stories to be accurate and right the first time. Sure, I can always edit after the fact but I would rather not have to do that. I won’t be focused on hard news, or breaking news as it’s called in the industry. Instead I want to get back into writing feature stories, in depth articles and stories covering what goes on in the world not from a get it first perspective but a get it right and publish on deadline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s political season again, how do I maintain my sanity?

I try not to get political on my podcast. I made this decision partly because I was working at a newspaper when I started doing the podcast and so I felt it best to keep my political views away from my newspaper audience. My publisher advised I stick to that as it was technically against company policy to discuss politics on social media. Now, I am not currently working for a newspaper and this blog of mine is well known to contain my personal opinions. Still, as a journalist I often try to keep my politics to myself.

That being said, it’s now election season gearing up in the media so I am going to have to put on my adult pants and tackle this stuff head on. After all, if I want to be taken seriously as a journalist I am going to have to tackle serious issues. With that in mind I am going to start a series of more investigative editorial stories. I want to keep using this website for the intended purpose of making sense of the world. Often I use popular culture to make sense of the world, so I discuss popular culture.

As far as politics go, I feel I am at least as qualified as any average Joe. I mean, I am fairly informed, college educated and I have experience interviewing politicians during my 3 years working for the news media. Thus I am going to start modifying the blog in order to allow for more political discourse. I am not entirely sure if I will continue to adhere to my no politics on the podcast or if I will slowly lift those restrictions. I will, however, begin getting a lot more political on the blog. I am not going to turn this into a social commentary site or a vehicle for political change, rather I am hoping to hone my skills covering politics in an effort to advance my career as a journalist.

I will begin by publishing modified versions of political stories I wrote for the newspaper. I will include photos that I took along with stories I wrote. I am also going to begin digging into other political issues, ranging from elections, candidates and the hot-button issues. I am probably not going to give away my personal stance on issues but I will do my best to be as fair and objective a journalist as I can. I hope my readers will bear with me during this transition, and who knows maybe I can reach a wider audience.

Interview with Congressman Beto O’Rourke (Aug. 13, 2017)

Rep. O’Rourke draws large crowd in Sherman

By Richard A. Todd

Beto 1-Photo by Richard A. Todd

GRAYSON COUNTY DEMOCRATS HOST TOWN HALL MEETING– U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) was invited to speak in a town hall meeting at the Grayson County Courthouse in Sherman on Sunday, Aug. 13. 2017. Organizers included, in no particular order: Lander Bethel, Dan Pucul, Genna Mitchell Bethel, Roger Sanders, Andra Petrean, Mark Ewig, Beto O’Rourke (center back blue shirt), Barb Rush, Glenn Melancon, Christina Johnstone, Glen Johnstone, Rajendra Wagle, Terry Templeton, Dinesh Wagle and Marion Morgan. O’Rourke is running against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

A Town Hall meeting that took place on Sunday, Aug. 13 at the Grayson County Court house drew a crowd of over 300 people. The focus of the town hall, U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, (D-El Paso), speaking to potential voters in Grayson County. O’Rourke brought out the big guns and used strong words to take on his political opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R- Houston), currently sitting Senator from

Texas. In a heated story about immigrants from South America that flooded into Texas during the previous administration O’Rourke fired up his base by directing harsh words towards the current administration. “Who would have thought that in 2017 we’d be having to hold marches for civil rights?” he asked to a fired-up crowd.

 

Beto 2

-Photo by Richard A. Todd

FULL HOUSE– Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) spoke to a crowd of over 300 attentive listeners at a  town hall meeting on Aug. 13, 2017 at the Grayson County Courthouse. Rep. O’Rourke is running against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) for a seat in the U.S. Senate in next year’s mid-term election

“We can’t wait until 2020. We need to start to unravel the policies this president has started now.” – Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Gordonville residents Clyde and Barbara Reynolds were in attendance.

“We came to hear what he had to say,” said Barbara. “We heard enough. This man is getting my vote.” she said.

O’Rourke has an uphill battle if he wants to persuade Grayson County voters. In the previous two elections Grayson County voted nearly 75 percent for the Republican candidate. In 2012 when they elected Sen. Cruz, and again in 2016 when they contributed to sending Donald Trump to the White House.

“I’m not looking just to voters who supported the president. I have had people come up to me who said they voted for Trump who are supporting me.” he said.

He took a hard stance on a few key issues. When asked about a woman’s right to choose,

“That’s non-negotiable for me. A woman has a right to make her own decisions about what she does with her body.” he said to cheers.

Other hot button issues were education, healthcare and immigration. He went so far as to say he favored universal healthcare and that it was the next step. On education he wants to do away with and replace the No Child Left Behind Act. When faced with a question he didn’t have a response for, he was quick to suggest he would better serve the voters by doing further research.

At one point he took down the name and information of a young man who asked a question about animal rights the congressman didn’t have a definitive answer for.

“I will have to do more research and get back to you, but I want to make sure I get it right.” he said.

He told stories of children, some Hispanic, others Muslim, who asked him “why doesn’t the president like me” referring to Trump. When asked if police should be allowed to arrest people who attend protests in military garb his response was a firm defense of all Americans’ first amendment rights. He did not condone the use of violence and called the incidents that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend acts of terrorism.

“We need to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem” he repeatedly said during the event. He added, “We need to move forward, not backwards.”

He told stories how people need to live in communities with downtown districts where people come face to face instead of living in gated communities.

“We need to invest in down town projects” he said.

“These [gated communities] separate us versus them. Communities are part of how we became so divisive in the first place.” he said.

He also proclaimed he wants to invest more in alternative energy, suggesting he sees the fight against the oil and natural gas industry as being similar to the whaling industry, a fight he claimed his side won.

He also said he favors term limits going so far as to indicate he would serve his two terms then step aside. It was not clear if he was counting his time in the House of Representatives as a part of that claim. The event was organized by members of the Grayson County Democratic Party. There were people in attendance from Grayson, Fannin, Cooke, Collin and Denton counties, and at least two who indicated they were from Rockwall.

O’Rourke announced his candidacy to unseat Sen. Cruz in March of this year. He will continue his tour of the state until the end of the month when he will return to his home district of El Paso, a city he referenced many times throughout the day.

Editors note: This story originally ran in the Aug. 18, 2017 issue of the Whitesboro News-Record. It is recreated here for posterity sake.

Richard A. Todd is a journalist, photographer and podcast host. He is currently writing stories freelance for local newspapers in the Magic Valley of Southern Idaho and Elko County, Nevada.

The Dark Web Podcast episode 22- Special guest MMA fighter/trainer Jackpot James, discussing the 90’s grunge movement and more

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-w5ycc-912a5b

This week features another special guest. Jackpot James Hof is an MMA fighter based in Jackpot, Nevada with ties to Las Vegas. We talk about what it’s like going into a fight with a total stranger. Then we take a trip down memory lane talking about what it was like going to high school in Jackpot. James was one of my classmates in high schoo, it was a lot of fun remeniscing.

 

The remainder of the podcast is spent ripping apart the 90’s grunge rock movement with an especially harsh criticsm of Stone Temple Pilots. I then dig into the topic of all topics, was the East Coast vs. West Coast gangsta rap war of the 90’s responsible for getting President Obama elected in 2008?

On the video game front I list my favorite Nintendo consoles, following a rant on the too soon false elevation of the Wii U’s status beyond the failed console it was. Then I get into the details of the Legion Quest storyline in the X-Men saga that lead to the Age of Apolcalype.

The Dark Web Podcast Episode 21- short episode where I talk about steam, GOG.com, Doctor Strange and more

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-h3yea-90bbf8

I know I already did two bonus episodes this week. I still felt like doing a regular episode with traditional topics. I kept it fairlyshort, right around 35 minutes.

 

I talk about the process of recovering my digital games from Steam, GoG.com, Origin and Guild Wars. I also talk about trying to re-watch The Lord of the Rings and what my main issue is with the film.

I also introduce my new Patreon. I talk about the three tiers I set up.

 

Check out the website: www.thespiderslair.com for more content.

Follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thespiderslairblog or Twitter: www.twitter.com/phatrat1982

 

The Dark Web episode 20 special LIVE MUSIC bonus episode featuring Spike Coggins

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cgkrr-90a87d

This very special first for The Dark Web podcast features an interview with a musician named Spike Coggins, you can find his music on Band Camp and other places, Google Spike Coggins music, or find him on Facebook and YouTube.

In this special episode another first for The Dark Web, I sat and recored the entire show, LIVE from start to finish. You are listening to the raw performance as it happened last night.

 

Spike is a folk singer who describes his music as “front porch blues.” He mostly tells stories of folk tales from the history of Idaho. For more information read his article on the name and his music here: https://thespiderslair.com/2018/05/04/spike-coggings-captures-the-spirit-of-idaho-with-his-front-porch-blues-style/

Anyone wishing to be a guest on The Dark Web send emails to phatrat1982@gmail.com and tell me who you are and what makes you interesting.