Balance needed between media

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2008

I read with great interest the Leonard Pitts column our paper ran in Thursday’s edition.

Pitts spoke of the decline of the American newspaper and the downsizing

papers all across the country have done to stay in the black.

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I sat in an auditorium during a seminar about five years ago and listened to a very experienced journalist say the Internet would never become a reliable news source.

Hmmm … Looking half a decade into the future, not only is the Internet a plentiful source of information, for most it is THE source of information.

Even our small newspaper has put heavy emphasis recently on producing news that will draw attention to our online site, partly in the hopes that circulation to our actual paper will increase.

Like Pitts, I don’t see how you could afford not to make a major investment in your online product.

But I still believe there should be balance.

Weighting the ratio in favor of your online product may work in some places, but look where we are.

It is by no means a stretch to say that the majority of homes in the Black Belt do not have Internet access.

How much good would it do us or any other newspaper company in our demographical position to regard its online product as its bread and butter?

Understandably, there are people from Selma who live elsewhere in the country that look at our Web site to keep up with local news.

But we still have a commitment to the people who look in their boxes or on their doorsteps every morning to learn more about their community.

Furthermore, the industry as a whole is not necessarily a victim of glitzy Web sites and the need for drive-thru news.

The problems with profit margin and declining circulation start long before that.

In the 20th century, reading a newspaper was about as common as breathing. There was no satellite or cable. Radios were useful, but you missed what you didn’t have time to hear.

Nearly everybody and their grandfather sat down at some point in the day to read the paper.

Now, I’m not saying the Internet doesn’t have its place. But let’s look at this.

You actually have to do a little thinking to read a newspaper. Even something like, say, cartoons. If you don’t understand the context of the subject, you won’t understand the message the artist is trying to convey.

That means watching TV for six hours a day would not be very beneficial.

The same goes for stories. Reporters pride themselves on being thorough and accurate, but we don’t expect that people will read our stories and nothing else.

At least, I don’t. People do themselves a terrible disservice if they don’t gain perspective on the world.

Even hiring journalists is hard. The skills important to this job – lateral thinking, basic reading and writing skills and attention to detail – are obviously dropped somewhere in the high school-to-college-to-job chain.

The best way to promote newspapers is to promote the importance of thinking. Without that, this and every other business will sink under.

George L. Jones is managing editor of The Selma Times-Journal. He may be reached at 410-1744 or by e-mailing