Here’s a Way for Newspapers to Remain Relevant

Like many parts of the country we are holding local elections in our community, and campaigns are in full swing. I have some issues with one of our candidates and tried submitting a letter to the editor about his record to both our local papers.

In both cases, they informed me they are not running letters related to the election due to the high volume of mail they receive about candidates and their limited editorial space.

One of the papers also expressed concern about not being able to give candidates equal time when there are multiple elections being held in nearby counties.

Stop and think about that for a minute: A high volume of letters indicates this is something people want to discuss. They want to engage in an exchange of information and points of view, but the papers are saying they can’t accommodate their readers’ desires. 

Bundle of newspapers

While I certainly can appreciate the reality of limited space, could we look at this from the readers’ perspective for a minute? Shouldn’t local papers’ editorial pages take the lead in providing a forum for the community to discuss issues and hold elected officials accountable for their records?

And isn’t it almost always the case that papers get more letters to the editor submitted on a topic than they can run? To make a blanket policy of not publishing any letters related to an election is really pretty amazing and short-sighted to me.

Coverage of local issues – and what readers think about them – is one of the most important services a newspaper can provide.

It’s no secret that Internet news sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, online chats, etc., have had an adverse effect on newspapers across the country. When a paper declines to provide a forum to exchange ideas and information for something as important as an election, people turn to social media and other venues to get the word out or get answers to their questions.

Which, over time, can make newspapers less relevant and perpetuate the cycle of declining readership.

So here’s my idea for providing a place for voters to get information about candidates prior to elections, ask questions and discuss important issues, without taking up valuable editorial space and without the editorial staff having to worry about treating candidates equally:

Create a special online site several months prior to an election, perhaps on the paper’s website itself, where people can submit letters and generate discussion.

For elections in which there are hundreds of candidates for office across multiple counties, the paper could have a separate page for each country, and people could post questions to the appropriate candidates, giving the candidates an opportunity to respond.

That would generate some genuine interaction and give equal opportunity to all concerned.

I suspect a lot of people would utilize a site like that to get the scoop because most information comes from standard candidate profiles in local papers, direct mail and radio ads from the candidates themselves, or from talking with friends.

It’s really challenging to uncover much of substance, and most people don’t have the time to do a lot of research on their own.

The papers could promote these sites through their print editions – as an extension of the papers themselves – and they might even be able to sell banner ads on them.

From a marketing standpoint, with a site like that a local paper would be utilizing new media in an innovative way that adds value to its readers’ experience and helps it stay relevant in a highly competitive world where there is an increasing number of news and information alternatives for consumers.

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

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