Monday, April 13, 2009

The Last Local Newspapers?

Listen to this lede from today’s paper:

With a linebacker's build and in his impeccable blue uniform, Master Patrol Officer James Shriever is bound to command attention. But it was his message that got the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department officer undivided attention at the March VNA meeting.

Or this one:

Two years of joint effort by the Immanuel Lutheran Organizing Committee (IOC) and Volker neighbors will soon make possible safer crossings for pedestrians between Bell and Genessee streets.

Darn good writing.

I was sitting at the breakfast table Easter morning, ok… Easter afternoon, with the first Sunday edition of the new localized Kansas City Star on one side of my freshly cracked but a yet unpeeled Easter eggs and the latest copy of the Volker News on the other side. I rooted the front page of the Star out of the stack and did a quick inventory of the news. A McClatchy story about the captain of the hijacked ship led the page, below it a locally written piece about debt collectors, a good leisurely feature by Laura Bauer was in the feature spot (The Star’s design is predictable – always a big square in the middle for the feature of the day…) and a piece about the migration of early television to the computer at the bottom. I’m sure it will have a Kansas City angle inside, but it doesn’t on page one.

I ought to turn the page and find out, but the little Volker newspaper at my elbow seems to be nagging for attention.

I pull out the "house and home" section, notice a striking photograph on the front that turns out to be a fake, and begin reading the story, hoping to find out who the local furniture maker is in the photograph (which I did not yet know was an illustration, not a real Kansas Citian). Hold the suspense, the lead story was not about a local furniture maker, it was about a national furniture trend and all the quotes were from elsewhere.

A glance at the Volker News then I rummage for the sports section. Watched a bit of the Royals game yesterday and read some stories and the box score on and it’s too early to think about football but I spot Joe Posnanski’s column. I often like to read him and I did notice once in a restaurant what a generous tipper he was even though it wasn't customary to tip in the place. But the lede graph was 80 words, at least, and felt like a hundred words, and when I read to the bottom of the page he still hadn’t gotten close to the point. I just couldn’t summon the energy to go inside. I like Joe's stuff and next time I'll turn the page. Promise.

I picked up the Volker News and immediately went to work on the two stories whose ledes I quoted at the top. They were precise, well written, elegant journalism. Linda Farrell wrote the Westport Road story and Rick Ledig wrote the police story. Of course, brush and leaf pickup was headlined on page one and on the back page I found out about an effort to start a community garden in the neighborhood.

Together, it was a fine, useful, piece of local journalism. It perfectly illustrated the difference between local journalism and localized journalism. From a crassly economic point of view, if I were an advertiser, I’d want to be in the Volker News. I’m beginning to think the Volker News and its sister publications all over town, dozens of them, will be the last local newspapers.

-- Lofflin, hoping the Star can figure this puzzle out before Matt's nightmare comes true.

1 comment:

  1. I like the comparison. The Star's Neighborhood News section oddly might have been the downfall of its neighborhood coverage. In one sense, you'd expect community news to get bigger play with a bureau full of reporters on the scene. But it doesn't happen when those bureaus cover expansive areas, not neighborhoods -- and it was often sexier stories that happened to fall within a zone that attracted Star reporters. And so went the neighborhoods.