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May 24, 2005

The Old Grey Lady – Part One

Tom McLaughlin

I love newspaper and always have. I founded and was editor of my own newspaper in college, worked on the paper in graduate school and contributed to The Salisbury Times. I now write for this very reputable web site.

I always wanted to be a reporter, never an editor, and plunge into the world of journalism. Life took me down a different and wondrous path filled with world travel, science, education and politics.

My experiences and observations of The Frederick News Post are not written out of vengeance or the musings of a disgruntled employee. Rather they are an attempt to communicate to Publisher Myron Randall, who is part owner of the Randall Family LLC, changes that need to be made to the newspaper in order to make it a better publication.

Every attempt was made to make an appointment with Mr. Randall, the editor, and, according to the masthead, publisher, but to no avail. These efforts went from January 2 through April 15. Everyone at the News Post thought I would go away. They were wrong. Sadly, the circulation of the newspaper has decreased by 5,000 according to the press run figures since 2002 as the population of the county has exploded. Something is obviously very, very, wrong. This seems to indicate that newcomers are sticking with the metro papers, while other customers are quitting the publication. As the loyal subscribers begin to die off during the next few years, the newspaper circulation will further decline. As circulation declines, advertising revenues will follow the trend.

The Frederick News Post has many problems. One of these is competition. There are not many markets in the United States where one can receive morning delivery of the greatest newspapers in the United States. I can receive at my front door each morning Baltimore’s Sun and The Washington Post. A quick drive into Frederick and I can pick up The New York Times and my local grocery store carries the coveted Sunday edition.

I subscribe to The Hagerstown Herald Mail, also delivered each morning, which is a much better newspaper than the News-Post. They are making significant inroads into the circulation of the Frederick paper and carry many stories about our area, which are often not reported by the News Post.

The only way the News Post can compete with this onslaught is by featuring local news, well written and presented. This rests with the reporters and writers of the publication. Morale among the employees is a major factor. As a former columnist for the paper, I got to know many of the reporters and other personnel and they are not happy campers.

Some come only for the experience, hoping to move on to a larger paper. Others love the art and form of journalism but are not rewarded either by a competitive pay – or a simple pat on the back.

A miserable newspaper employee will produce a mediocre story. The editor and publisher of the paper have come to accept mediocrity as the norm and do not promote excellence in reporting. It is wrong to state all the reporters dwell in the C grade of journalism but the readers know who you are. The idea is to get the stories out, printed and disposed of.

The cycle begins again the next day and the same mediocrity continues. Everyone at the newspaper gets some kind of award from The Associated Press or The Maryland, D.C. and Delaware Press Association but everyone at the newspaper knows this is a joke. The lists of awards that come out periodically are often buried deep inside the newspaper as even the editors know this and are possibly embarrassed.

The answer to this problem is simple.

Cultivate employees, pay them a living wage and offer hearty congratulations on a job well done. Rewards could include reporter of the month, dinner with one of the owners or positive constructive suggestions on how to make a story better. The revolving door of “reporters in, reporters out” must be stopped and young newsmen/women must be trained to write for an increasing well-educated and literate audience flooding into the county. And then they must be induced to stay and raise a family. The idea of merit pay would work well here.

Tomorrow: The Editorial Policy and the Good News

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