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What readers want: Innovative local stories

Am I the only one  who believes the traditional print version of our community newspaper still provides the best economic future?

Peter W, Wagner, Founder, The N’West Iowa REVIEW

I don’t understand the logic of moving local news coverage from the long-established and highly respected printed newspapers to the internet. Any egomaniac with a home computer can create a local website or blog. But it takes a community newspaper — with credible reporters, editors and well-deserved reputation — to provide direction and consensus to the community.

“What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?” asked Jack Shafer recently on Politico.com. Printed papers, he says, have struggled the last two decades to reinvent themselves for the digital age. Few have seen any real revenue and there has been almost zero growth since 2007. Surveys show, he says, that most readers still prefer the print version of their newspaper to the web version. “Maybe newspapers should focus on what they’re good at,” he says, “instead of fighting a digital war they can’t possibly win.”

My son, Jeff Wagner, says nobody can save their way into business success. The industry cutback in newsroom staff, editorial hole, circulation promotion and community involvement has deflated the image and value of newspapers overall.

Some local newspapers attempt to get by printing mostly news releases that are nothing but self-serving, poorly written, boring collections of “who cares” facts. Worst, most of those releases also available in every other newspaper in your area. If press releases are used at all they should be rewritten and expand with fresh information and a local spin.

I used to think readers wanted their stories USA Today style, short and to the point. But while in San Francisco recently I found myself devouring exciting, enticing, full-page newsworthy features in The Examiner.

But being short or being long does not make story or feature article worthy of printing. Each article needs a “hometown” connection.

Here are some recent innovative stories published in my The N’West Iowa REVIEW:

“WHERE’S SUPERMAN SUPPOSED TO CHANGE?” told our readers that most Northwest Iowa telephone booths have disappeared. You’ll find them in backyards, basement rec rooms and providing character to locally owned businesses.

“SEVEN FOR 7” featured seven articles in our OKOBOJI Magazine highlighting seven of the best places, interesting faces, restaurants, boat dealers, recreational trails and events around our nearby seven-lake Okoboji resort area.

“FULL-TIME PIG FARMER AND PART-TIME PASTOR” shared the journey of a man called to the ministry from his hog lot. Today, with much training, he both farms and preaches.

And finally, “TAKING A FLING AT MATH” explained how a Sheldon Middle School sixth-grade teacher was using the trebuchet, an ancient weapon of war, to teach math to his students.

There are endless worthwhile stories breaking around every community every day. The resourceful reporter will discover them while at church, listening in on the conversations at the city council meeting or simply by visiting with a local community leader. They are the stories readers remember. They just require an inquiring mind and an interest in the community.

Let’s not write print’s obituary yet. The printed newspaper is going to be around for a long time. All it needs is the love and care of an enterprising publisher and powerful, exceptional writing.

 Peter W. Wagner is founder and publisher of the award-winning N’West Iowa REVIEW. He is a regular presenter at state press association conventions and group seminars. You may contact him with questions regarding your newspaper at pww@iowainformation.com or (cell) 712-348-3550.

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