What if 61 percent of your news stopped?

By Todd Franko

Did you “hear the news” about the county sales-tax plans?

Did you “see the news report” about the minister wanting the school superintendent out?

Did you “check out the blog post” about city redevelopment?

Reality is that when you encounter a news item from any of the above forms of media, odds are that the news originated in a newspaper.

A newspaper.

That’s not me proclaiming that so as to counter promotions from competing media that shout “news first” or “the most local news” or whatever. It’s a real, true measure of one media market, and a realization that it’s likely carried out across other cities where there is competing media, such as we have in our Valley.

The Pew Research Center is a D.C.-based nonprofit whose mission is to spot trends and issues affecting American life, particularly in the area of media — what we watch, how we absorb and how we react to all communication forms.

Pew wanted to understand which media outlets create news, how citizens get that news, and how much of it is unique and independent vs. regurgitated from elsewhere.

Of particular interest was how the explosion of new media — micro Web sites and blogs — challenged traditionalists such as newspapers.

Last summer, Pew plopped down in Baltimore for several days and audited every media source and news story they could find. In that city, there were 53 news outlets, from radio to TV to Web sites to talk shows to blogs to newspapers.

For one week, they counted everything. Here’s what they found: Sixty-one percent of Baltimore’s news originated from newspapers.

So whether it was a news item from a morning radio talk show host, a blogger, a TV or radio newscast, a boutique Web site, or a Google alert — there was a 2-out-of-3 chance that the story started with the newspaper.

Why should you care?

A less-informed society is a less-able society. We need to value access to information and engage and invest in the conduits for that information.

I would tell you this if 61 percent of news came from putting my ear to a seashell.

That it’s newspapers is profound in that newspapers are going through a foundational economic shift.

We’re becoming more tech-savvy. We post and tweet with the best of them to the point that the most-read news sites in America and here in the Valley are largely newspaper sites.

But from our earliest days, our economic model was flawed.

The vital information newspapers gathered and provided was funded by advertising. As dependent as we’ve been on Watergate reporting such as Woodward and Bernstein’s, we’ve also been as dependent on Barnes & Noble and Bartles & Jaymes.

This is our challenge, for sure.

We are a private business that must figure out a way to thrive — with reporting, printing and delivery that meets reader and advertiser demands. All of it is on the table for re- evaluation, and it dominates our work days as I write this.

But it also is your challenge in terms of where you choose to invest your money as a reader and an advertiser.

So when you hear Mangino and Louie Free championing a cause on radio, read your favorite blogger ranting or watch your favorite TV anchor, likely what they’re offering as news started as news in a newspaper article — whether from The Vindicator or The Plain Dealer or The New York Times.

If 61 percent of our news disappears, where are we as a community?

Who sends reporters out to collect the news that is so vital to the community conversation everyone engages in each day?

It’s a community challenge, not just ours.

And with apologies to Bartles & Jaymes: We thank you for your support.

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