Low Hanging Fruit from The Town Talk:

Newspapers are changing. In the past five years most have shorter stories, fewer and skinnier pages, and less of just about everything. The Town Talk, like other community newspapers, however, still does the one thing that the New York Times, CNN and the bloggers don’t do — it chronicles the area’s history, day-by-day and year-by-year.

Riiiiight.

The New York Times does not chronicle the history of Central Louisiana because it’s The New York Times; it has been chronicling the news nationally and regionally since 1851, thirty three years before The Town Talk printed its very first edition. It seems bizarre and disingenuous to imply that, somehow, The Town Talk still does “the one thing” that The New York Times doesn’t do, when, in fact, the Gray Lady has one of the richest and most extensive regional news sections in the nation. CNN and those pesky bloggers communicate on different mediums, cable television and the Internet, and though both are relatively new in the grand scheme of things, there are many bloggers, in particular, who do, in fact, chronicle the daily news and history of their community. To be sure, most of those blogs rely heavily on the news produced by newspapers. In my opinion, the importance of a local newspaper is unquestionable.

But just like any business, newspapers must learn to respond to the times and adapt to technology. Unfortunately, a newspaper can’t simply assert its superiority and importance by pointing back to its archives, particularly in an era in which history is rapidly becoming digitized and made available, free of charge, online.

Like many people, when I was a kid, my family bought an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannicas, thirty beautifully-bound, gold-leafed books that ostensibly contain most of the world’s knowledge. My brother, sister, and I were instructed to use the encyclopedias as our primary resource in school reports and presentations, but less than five years after my family made this investment, all of the knowledge contained in those books were made available online and on a series of CD-ROMs. Today, our set of encyclopedias sits on a bookcase in my living room, not because I still use them as a reference, but because, honestly, they’re too good-looking to be packed into boxes and stored in a dark closet.

I also have a great collection of old editions of The Town Talk, and, to be fair, I have learned much more about our community on those yellowing pages that I could have ever learned through a simple search on Google. And although I know I am being critical of the newspaper’s opening paragraph in today’s Our View editorial, I think that, if you set aside its disingenuous claim about The New York Times, they are actually trying to make an argument with which I agree: More than any other medium, local newspapers have remained the custodian of an area’s history.

Expanding access and increasing the availability of those archives are critically-needed. As of today, if you want to explore the archives of The Town Talk online, you can only go back as far as 1999. No doubt, digitizing over a hundred years of daily newspapers would require a massive investment and thousands of hours of work. Sure, you can always travel to the library and, if you know exactly what you’re looking for, you may be successful.

It is encouraging that the Library of Congress is already embarking on some of this work- digitizing newspaper archives- but newspaper companies would be wise to recognize that their archives have a tangible, monetary value. Not only would expanding access to archives help an entire community learn about itself, it would also help news reporters quickly find context for the news of the day. All of the microfilm to which The Town Talk referred in today’s editorial should be placed into a searchable, online database. They could even charge for access.

I have blogged frequently about my opinions of the struggling newspaper industry, particularly small, regional newspapers like The Town Talk, and I recognize that archiving is probably not too high on their list of priorities. But it should be: If newspapers are the custodians of our local history, then their reporters should be fully aware of this history.

12 thoughts

  1. In the case of Alexandria, Shreveport, Monroe and Lafayette the newpapers go even better. They make a lot of money and rather than re-invest it in the local paper, ship it off to Gannett Corporate.

  2. Of course we all know how valuable newspapers are for history, just as they mention. I do a lot of history and genealogy research, and I access the older papers all the time.
    This self-serving thing in the Town Talk today, though, was just silly. They don’t even pretend to acknowledge how the information sources complement each other.

  3. It’s times like these that I recall this movie quote, from 1991’s “Other People’s Money”:

    “You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best g-ddamn buggy whip you ever saw.”

    Newspapers (and news magazines, for that matter) are terminal patients. There is no saving them. In five years, there may be 20 or fewer newspapers still in actual “print”, and not solely on the internet, in the entire United States. In ten years, there will be exactly ZERO newspapers (there may still be some community flyers, “Thrifty Nickel” ad papers, and the like, but nothing that we consider a substantial newspaper today) actually in print, in the United States. The organizations that publish these papers today will adapt or perish. There is no third option.

  4. The Town Talk’s death is long overdue. One could argue that it died when Gannett seized control, thereby destroying its journalistic integrity. I for one will be saddened when that final day does come. It has served Cenla well, at least when it was truly local. However, in recent years, opening it every morning has become painful. Most Monday editions stay in the driveway. Seldom does the paper challenge anyone to think. It is simply a yes sheet for far right conservativism. There are a number of legitimate conservative columnists who could challenge local readers. Instead, we are pelted by an African American economist who seemingly wants to take us backwards (never trust a black republican), to Cal Thomas, who doesn’t know that WWII is over. I was especially appalled when the editors allowed its senior sports writer to issue social commentary. He sounded as if he had never been out of the deep south. As a liberal democrat, I enjoy reading George Will’s opinions. He is staunchly conservative, yet apparently the Town Talk thinks the local right wingers are simply not intellectually up to the challenge. Please Gannett, go ahead and put us out of our misery

    1. Michaleaux,

      I’m disappointed that you don’t think that African Americans are entitled to get off of the “Democratic” party’s plantation. I’m not 100% sure if you’re referring to Dr. Thomas Sowell, or Walter Williams, but I will assume Sowell. Dr. Sowell is a national treasure, unafraid (Attorney General Holder is correct when he says that America is cowardly on the question of race. In my opinion, cowed by the requirements of the oppressive demands of ‘political correctness’ from the left, and fearful of being associated with the vile, repulsive imagery of the past associated with white supremacists, and other separatists, cowardice on the issue is almost a given) to address issues that most shirk from. I do not always agree with him, but I appreciate his perspective, particularly in his expertise of economics and education.

      From the other side of the aisle, as an example, I appreciate the writing of Camille Paglia and Michael Kinsley.

      I agree with you that Cal Thomas, while I like him and occasionally he delivers a really good column, is not in the same league as George Will, who may be the best conservative columnist out there, now that William F. Buckley has gone on to his reward.

      1. Thanks for the feedback Ace,

        Your first assumption was correct. I was referring to Dr. Sowell. I’m not sure what makes him a national treasure, but I will defer to your opinion. However, your second assumption was totally off. You assumed that I am in favor of refusing to allow African Americans to fulfill their human potential. I will be the first to admit that some of the social programs of the 1960’s were ill-conceived, especially a mother’s eligibility for cash payments being based on the child’s deprivation of one parent. If the Democrats have ever tried to undermine the family, as so many Republicans believe, this would definitely qualify. The food stamp program is another one that should go. We need to go back to the commodity system. We would not allow truly needy people to go hungry, but we would determine what they would eat. This would be more nutritious and the public would not be paying retail prices, much of which is for advertising. I am a firm believer that each individual should be pushed towards self-empowerment. So, no, I do not believe in not letting blacks get off the “democratic gravy train.”

        One problem I have with Dr. Sowell is that he is a free-market economist. My libertarian leanings led me to support this line of thinking at one time. However, since our current economic crises began, I no longer support this stance. For me, the pivotal point was Alan Greenspan finally admitting that unregulated markets will not work. Economics is possibly the most inaccurate science known. Yet, these free-marketers are still convinced that deregulation is the answer.

        The other problem I have is that he talks down to his own people on behalf of the party of the rich. I will save this opinion for a later thread.

        Getting back to the original topic, the Town Talk, I see them using Sowell as a tool to fluff their white, far-right readership. These pseudo- thinkers like nothing better than to see a successful black person reaffirm their beliefs about their superiority over the black race. I do not for a second think that Dr. Sowell shares those views. But, I can’t help but think the TT stokes the fire.

        1. Mich,

          I agree with a lot of what you said, but substituting the Food Stamp program (LA Purchase Card) with the old style commodity program is a terrible idea. The commodity program still exists in many communities, and has been a driving force in giving big Agrobusiness more share of the market and destroying healthy diets. One great thing is that nowadays you can use your LA Purchase Card at the farmers market to buy fresh produce. Commodity programs can’t deliver fresh fruits and veggies. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food, but not much, mostly veggies.”

  5. The one line that really irritates me is about pages getting skinnier and paper getting thinner.

    It pisses me off because the Shreveport and Lafayette papers are just as thick and locally oriented as they ever were. Only the Town Talk gives us a paper barely bigger than the Thrifty Nickle and thinks it’s OK.

    I can only hope that people in Cenla occasionally pick up a Times Picayune and remember what a real newspaper looks like. Maybe then they won’t be fooled into thinking the Clown Talk is actually representative of modern daily.

    And of course one thing should be added: good grammar, rich vocabulary, and proper spelling are free. Too bad the Town Talk doesn’t often take advantage of that free resource in its pages.

  6. Since we are all piling on, here is what gets me:

    I operate a blog. I suppose I am one of those bloggers who could never match the newspaper in its ability to record the quotidian history of our region. Then again, unlike the newspaper, my blog cannot partially rely on government-mandated advertisements because it’s not the “paper of record,” nor does it hope to be.

    In my three and a half years operating this blog, no one who has contributed content to this website has benefited financially because of their blogging. The same can be said of the operators and contributors of every other local blog.

    The Town Talk also operates a blog. They call it a “forum” but really, it is a blog. They post news stories on their website, and they let people respond to their stories in the very same way those of us on CenLamar allow people to comment on our posts. But there is one glaring and obvious difference: The Town Talk isn’t dynamic, flexible, or bold enough to competently operate their blog.

    The Town Talk’s blog seems to be a hotbed of hateful and racist rants, personal attacks, and unchallenged ignorance.

    Let me put this in simple terms: In my personal opinion, The Town Talk (NOLA.com is a close second) operates the most divisive, ignorant, and poorly-managed blog in the entire State of Louisiana (with the exception, of course, of blogs that purposefully traffic on radicalized hatred and salaciousness; you know who they are).

    I read the Town Talk online every single day, and it is absolutely amazing to me that they continually, tacitly allow their “objective” presentation of the news to be contextualized by anonymous bloggers.

    When an article appears about a promising project in a struggling neighborhood, it is swiftly met by anonymous commentary that, in many instances, seems racist and discriminatory. (And 99.9% of the time, the criticism is leveled by people who obviously have no connection to or knowledge of the neighborhood in question).

    Sure, it’s free speech, but it’s also an addendum to The Town Talk’s work product– the product, ostensibly, Gannett wants us to pay for. (Maybe this is really a Gannett problem).

    Like it or not, the paper’s blog creates a context and sets a tone.

    It is supremely arrogant and hypocritical when an organization that, in my opinion, hosts the most poorly managed blog in the State acts as if they are somehow above the blogosphere– even though their online readership is driven, in large part, by the blogosphere and even though they actually operate an extensive blog (err “forum”).

    I do not want them to fail. I want them to adapt.

    More importantly, I want them to be honest: When you operate and host a blog, you are, by definition, a blogger.

    1. Replying to:

      “The Town Talk’s blog seems to be a hotbed of hateful and racist rants, personal attacks, and unchallenged ignorance. ”

      and

      “When an article appears about a promising project in a struggling neighborhood, it is swiftly met by anonymous commentary that, in many instances, seems racist and discriminatory. (And 99.9% of the time, the criticism is leveled by people who obviously have no connection to or knowledge of the neighborhood in question). ”

      You are so right Lamar. I am so embarassed about the comments on the TT, that I do not even attempt to comment anymore.

      The Red Cross building progress news has been met with ugly anonymous commentary by persons who were/are not involved with the project and do not know what they are talking about. Most live in Pineville. I wish some persons, before they spouted their ignorance, would research and get their facts straight before blasting off.

      As you know, I happen to live in a struggling neighborhood, and anytime anything negative happens, persons are quick to shove that down my throat. However, when something positive like, new business, American Red Cross, etc. happens, they don’t have anything positive to say. Also, every time an insurance inspector or some other tradesman comes to my house, they are quick to point out that “you live in a bad neighborhood,….blah blah” and then look to see what my reaction will be. They act like they are telling me something I don’t know (which I think only a few spoil it for the rest of us, this area has some good, hardworking people), because you know, I am a naive Christiana girl who obviously doesn’t have her eyes open. What do they want me to say? “Oh, thank you so much for pointing that out. I have not noticed in the three years that I lived here. I am going to go pack my bags right now and move! Thank you so much!” Give me a break!

      Sometimes when people really get on my nerves…for example, they may say: “You heard about that drug bust a few streets over from where you are”, I remind them of the meth bust that happened last year in a supposedly GOOD neighborhood. When they say: “You hear about the robberies that are happening in your area”, I remind them of the string of burglaries on 28W in that brand new neighborhood by the golf course. Several houses were cleaned out….appliances, wiring and everything. It doesn’t happen just here.

      Anyway……

      Andrea

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s