I’m seeing optimism in American newsrooms that hasn’t been around since 2008. Do you sense it too? It’s a feeling that perhaps the worst is over, we are out of denial, and we are trying new paths forward with confidence that something or things are going to stabilize the industry.
This optimism is bubbling up from the bottom. This month I talked with three journalists in different places in the news business and their outlooks are positive. While staying true to journalism tradition, each is embracing new ways to reach readers.
I knew Michael Ganci when he was in diapers. His dad is one of my best friends. With pride and hope, I watched Ganci grow up with a love for sports broadcasting that eventually morphed into a degree at the State University of New York at Oneonta where he was editor of the school newspaper as a second-semester freshman.
He had newspaper jobs after graduation, but then earned a spot as editor of a Patch news site in a town close to his home on Long Island.
Ganci built his Patch into one of the successful ones. His seminal moment came during Hurricane Sandy when he reported local news from his aunt’s basement because it was the only place he could find with electricity. “People were calling me and asking, ‘Can you help me find my father? I haven’t been able to reach him.’ And I would post that and they would find the connection. For weeks after the hurricane passed, people would come up to me and say, ‘You were my only connection to the local news during that time.’ I felt really good about that. It was for the greater good and the whole reason I got into it.’”
But Patch was ultimately a failed experiment and after a short stint as a weekly editor in a job that barely paid living wages, Ganci took a job in public relations where his media skills are employed well. It’s a good job but his passion is a blog about the New York Mets called The Daily Stache, in homage to the hallowed moustache of Keith Hernandez, former Mets first baseman and current broadcaster.
There are about a dozen blogs devoted to the team and one that has the backing of a major network. But The Daily Stache has been increasing followers as Ganci finds fresh content and new ideas to build readership. It is journalism on the Web. His latest idea is a nine-question email interview with well-known New York sportscasters and writers. He calls it “Nine Innings With …” and he has built a nice following.
“You are forming relationships with people when you have a blog,” he said. “I am creating original content and forming an audience for that.”
Gretchen Wenner is one of those reporters any editor would love to hire. She calls fellow journalists “(her) tribe” and she works tenaciously. She returns calls. She talks to sources all day long. She stays at meetings long after others go home. Her reporting is first and accurate. And she dominates her beat at the Ventura County Star. (Smart people hired her after I left.)
But after 15 years of daily reporting, she also is doing something very new—she tweets during local council meetings. The tweets are a mixture of wry humor, reporting, observations that are hard to fit into a daily story with limited word count, and some good news photos, such as Cub Scouts receiving an honor. “People will come and talk to me about my tweets. They tell me they look forward to them.”
It is one way to build a loyal audience in a time where that is challenging. “There is so much great journalism going on today. Something will happen (to solidify the industry),” Wenner said. “I don’t think anyone knows what that is yet. But I can’t stop. I wish I had the answer, but I am willing to try a lot of things.”
What she knows is that whatever she is doing now will change over time. “I’d be stupid to think I will be doing it exactly the same as I do it now for the rest of my career.”
Kyle Jorrey considers himself one of the lucky ones. He is editor of The Thousand Oaks Acorn, a local weekly in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The paper (and four related editions) is locally owned by a family. “I am shielded a bit from what others have to go through. We are still judged by the quality of the journalism we do and not on how many clicks a story gets.” But Jorrey is another who embraces Twitter—for another reason.
As a weekly editor, he is frustrated by a story that might have to sit for five or six days until the next publication. With Twitter, he is going toe-to-toe with the dailies. I have seen these journalists spar with dueling tweets at popular meetings.
Between Twitter and its Facebook following, Jorrey’s newspaper builds a solid relationship with readers. One recent story drew 10 letters to the editor and 100 Facebook comments. Although Jorrey’s publications grappled with local Patch sites, he was saddened by their demise. “I think there is hope for online journalism,” and Patch was a good experiment.
Today, he’s more positive about the future of newspapers. “Five years ago, I might not have been encouraging young journalists…But what I have seen now is a new role for journalists. People need us. I love what I do so much.”
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.