Banging a drumbeat for journalism

Who’s going to write what needs to be written?

Ron Angle received his first paycheck for newspaper writing in 1958. He wrote commentary for the Chico Beat and has contributed commentary and reported pieces to the CN&R.

As announced last week, the Chico Beat is dead. It follows a short but distinguished list of other challengers to the News & Review that have failed to stay afloat in Chico’s challenging newspaper market.

Some might be bold enough to say in print that the “old” News & Review should be on that list. The successor to the “Wildcat” is now a very successful mainstream weekly newspaper. In an era of severe cutbacks in newsrooms across the country and of the resizing of many daily newspapers, the News & Review papers, published in three cities and two states, seem to float quite well.

Meanwhile, the Chico Enterprise-Record has seen an exodus of writers whose output is now being replaced by wire service copy. Of course, when a newspaper is shrunk to near-tabloid size, there are not too many column inches available for hard local news.

My beloved Sacramento Bee is now going through the same throes of downsizing. Staffers are being offered buyouts, column inches are shrinking, news sections are being combined, and wire features abound. The investigative reporting that once won the Bee numerous awards may soon be just a part of the newspaper’s history. As an offset, however, the Bee now provides us with the daily comics in color!

None of this is unexpected. Print journalism is recognized by many as being on its last legs. The era of Internet journalism is here to stay. It is cheaper and faster and more in tune with the needs of today’s younger readers.

That trend started the downslide of print journalism, but the current economy has greatly accelerated the inevitable. In 20 years, if we want to read the day’s news on paper, our only option will be to click on the “print” button.

As a journalist, I fear that in an era obsessed with sensationalism and celebrities, the Fourth Estate will become little more than a discussion topic that begins with “Back in the old days ….” The checks and balances of a mighty press that have worked to keep government honest and accountable may likely be replaced by anonymous blogs and their inevitable successors.

For now, though, I hope that somehow—when the economy improves—Chico will once again have a true alternative newspaper to challenge the News & Review. It is not that the News & Review has its deficiencies, but there is nothing like competition to encourage a newspaper to reach a little higher and a little further in its news coverage. It is the alternative to complacency and compromise and a lack of commitment to its readers.

Unfortunately, alternative newspapers in small towns are about as profitable as buggy-whip distributorships. In the end, a newspaper is just another business.