Fire the Wire — And Hire Locally

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By: Mark A. Phillips

My suggestion for publishers, editors and news managers dealing daily with the cost-cutting that plagues newsrooms around the country is to fire someone.

But don’t fire a reporter, copy editor, or a photog. What I’m proposing might not win me any friends at the major wire services. I’m certainly not going to win any popularity contests. But allow me to get a few points across before stoning me to death.

I’m suggesting you sack your wire service. That’s right — fire your wire service. Eliminate wire copy from your paper.

Here’s why: Wire service copy has become a commodity that is sent around the globe via the Internet at blistering speed. Wire is accessible through Yahoo!, Google, or any number of Web sites. By the time your valued local newspaper reader gets a copy of your paper, the news could be a day old.

Is this really serving your readers? Don’t you want to give them something they truly cannot get anywhere else?

The fact is, many readers have already seen the same stories on the Web, heard it on the radio, or watched it on cable news. Yes, it’s a shocker: The newspaper isn’t a one-stop shop for news.

You might say not everyone has Internet access. That’s true, but it’s not going to stay that way forever. Web-enabled phones are increasing in number every day, as are Internet connections. Check the stats on your Web site and see if you don’t have more traffic than you did a year ago.

But back to the wire service pink slips. Before you throw that rock at me, look at the monthly wire and photo costs in your budgets and compare those to what you spend on local news and sports employees. Does it shock you that those resources are going to services that many of your readers get for free on the Web? It should.

Take the money you spend on wire and hire more news and sports reporters, more editors, more photographers. Instead of wire, wire, wire, I want you to hire, hire, hire. Bolster your local news and sports coverage and it will pay dividends.

I can already hear one question: But what are we going to slap into that empty page 10 minutes before the floor deadline? Answer: Local copy.

Newspapers are — I’m going to mention the dreaded “p” word — a product. As such, one paper must differentiate itself from another in the next town or county. Local is the only thing that can do this. It makes no sense to put out a product each day that varies only slightly from one 20 miles down the road.

As for the wire services, they understand their business model must change. They’ve been working on digital solutions for years. And the wire services know that the emphasis on local coverage by newspapers will alter their revenues. New services that they design will help augment your newspaper’s Web site in the future. The wire isn’t going anywhere.

Your local newspaper brand has a value that is unmatched by any other. It’s time to increase its value by investing in the one thing that will ensure its survival and continue to draw readers.

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