‘Who Needs Newspapers’ Project Documents the State of Newsrooms Nationwide

By: Tim Rosini

Everyone hears about The New York Times and the Chicago Tribunes of the world, but what about the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Jackson, Mich., or the Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.? How have they adapted to new technology? What is their newsrooms’ mind-set for the future?

In an effort to find out, the Who Needs Newspapers project is going state to state to document newspapers and find out how they’re surviving.

Backed by a six-member nonprofit coalition called Valid Sources, Who Needs Newspapers is collecting a 50-state newsroom status report, offering insight as to how, and in what form, newspapers will serve their communities in the future. Leading this newsroom road trip are longtime media experts Paul Steinle and Sara Brown, two of the founding members of Valid Sources. Steinle and Brown – along with Tallula, their Wheaten terrier – have been visiting different newsrooms and blogging their findings on WhoNeedsNewspapers.org.

“We really have noted that not everyone is caught up in the doom-and-gloom forecasts; people realize it is actually an exciting time for newspapers,” said Steinle while on the road to Tupelo, Miss. “It’s a redevelopment period for a lot of newspaper companies, and the culture of the newsroom has changed. You have younger and energized people coming in that understand the technology and are using it to their advantage.”

Since the project’s inception in September 2010, Steinle and Brown have visited and interviewed 29 newspapers. After each visit, they post a report on that particular paper on their website. Visitors can track the duo’s progress through an interactive map and gain poignant insights on each newsroom they visit.

“What we have found in visiting so many different places, is actually more of the same. Even smaller local newspapers are understanding, and repositioning themselves with the use of multimedia technologies,” Steinle said. “In this era of the Internet, newspapers can once again compete in the breaking news department, something they got away from in the 1980s and 1990s with the dominance of TV. But the newsrooms are being educated on the digital world, and local dailies are realizing the important link they have with their community.”

Valid Sources and WNN are currently entirely self-funded. They are in the process of applying for foundation grants to continue with future projects and to expand the reach of Valid Sources.

“In the long run we would like this project to eventually continue,” Brown said. “We are teaming up with the State Press Association to hopefully keep this project going in the future and keep producing high-quality journalism, not only for the people working in the newsrooms today but for journalism students thinking about a career in newspapers or the publication business in general.”

Steinle said the future of newspapers is bright, despite reports to the contrary.

“We have met many bright minds on our trip so far, and newspapers should be proud of the kind of people that work on delivering high-quality journalism.”

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