New Evidence That The Sky Isn't Falling

FROM THE EDITOR

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I learned all about you last week, even though I was a thousand miles away in Seattle.

For days, I sat in an overly air conditioned conference room, drinking cup after cup of free coffee and listening to the speakers leading the Inland Press Foundation conference on Editorial Management.

The room was full of editors from newspapers around the West. We had come to discuss the future of our industry and to have "experts" tell us what our readers wanted.

Newspapers, we were told, are a thing of the past. The average newspaper reader is over 50 years old and aging.

The next generation, they said, does not have the same habits. They gather news from Web sites, from radio, from television, but few have the time or the interest to pick up the traditional medium of news delivery -- the ink covered paper you hold in your hands right now.

After a day or two of this, I completely expected to come back to Payson and see the Roundup boarded up and any personal items from my office packed away in a cardboard box.

"Adapt or Die" was the message of the conference. Newspapers need to be flashier. Stories need to be shorter and reporters need to concentrate on filling the Web site with music, photos and exciting, quick read content.

"Do more, with less, faster," as one presenter put it.

The atmosphere was tense, made worse because the story of Knight Ridder was interwoven with every talking point.

Among us were several editors from Knight Ridder papers. In case you haven't heard, Knight Ridder was the nation's second-largest newspaper chain until recently. They owned, among others, the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Inquirer. But months ago, one majority stockholder in the company who was unhappy with his returns led an investor coup and forced Knight Ridder to put itself on the market.

The company sold out to the McClatchy chain for $4.6 billion. The McClatchy chain bought up 32 of Knight Ridder's daily newspapers, then turned around and sold five of them. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of newspapers.

To say that many people in the room with me in Seattle were uncertain about their future would be an understatement.

I flew back to Phoenix Friday night with a notebook full of ideas and my mind in a haze.

My heart had been racing for most of the conference. From what I learned, the newspaper of the future felt like the Strip in Las Vegas -- shiny, loud, constant.

My mind was still racing when I crested the hill into Payson. It was late and the town was quiet.

I drove by the churches and the businesses, the porch lights of homes and I drove by the Payson Roundup office. And that's when I came back to earth.

I remembered where I work and in what town. I remembered that most people move to Payson to get away from the shiny, loud and constant pulse of more urban places.

And while we have been working on constantly updating our Web site with breaking news stories as they come -- the Kohl's Fire was on payson.com an hour after it started -- I think the Roundup's role is something more than a source of colorful stimulation.

Of all the ideas put forth in that Seattle conference, I bring one back. At the end of the first day, Tom Hallman, a Pulitzer Prize winning feature writer from The Oregonian, stepped up to the podium. He told us about some of the best stories of his career. They were stories as simple as the one about a woman who worked as a maid and put her children through college. They were stories that gained him national recognition, because they were written with feeling. But they were stories we have here -- the everyday struggles of everyday people.

Life is difficult and while people look to the newspaper for information, they also look into those pages for a reflection of themselves.

As Hallman said, "People want stories that give life meaning."

And that is what I took away from all those hours of workshops.

And that's what I'll try to give you during my time in Payson -- not flash, not fast -- just a mirror of this community tilted in such a way that we can see ourselves better.

Always feel free to call me with story ideas at (928) 474-5251 ext. 115 or e-mail editor@payson.com.

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