Death

April 17, 2018

by Roger Pynn

One thing you can look forward to when you die is that you won’t have to read the news.  After all, it is pretty depressing.

However, one thing you won’t read about is something many find depressing while they are still alive … death.

After monkeying with their publication of the news of death back in 2013 when it did away with the tradition of printing “Deaths in Central Florida,” the Orlando Sentinel brought back a limited version … but instead of treating it like news, they charged for even the simple three-line notices that include the deceased’s name, age, city and the name of their funeral home so friends could at least call to inquire about funeral services.

Last week they simply buried the whole thought that the dearly departed might matter to the paper’s readers, trading the space for large display ads.  The classified ad department told me that the average obituary takes up 36 lines at a cost of $505.  They do have a handy tool that allows you to write your loved one’s story, paste the text into a template and find out what it will cost … if you don’t die from the sticker shock yourself.

I’m an old news hound.  I made my living as a journalist for a long time.  I wrote a lot of obits in my day.  And I’ve read them every day of my life ever since … not out of morbid curiosity, but because if a friend has passed, I want to know it.  My bet is that I’m not unlike a lot of people … especially when they reach their 60s and 70s and going to funerals becomes a more routine part of life.

A quick check at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion/letters doesn’t seem to show it, but the print edition has had at least a couple of passionate letters to the editor on this subject, including this:

I understand it costs a lot to run a newspaper.  It also costs to lose subscribers … whether it is due to their death or the disgust of families who dump their subscriptions … offended by decisions like this that choke every last dime out of the readers that real advertisers are trying to reach.


Aghast!

July 22, 2016

by Roger Pynn

Journalists, journalists-turned-public relations people and lifelong PR folks seemed aghast on social media yesterday when news broke that Florida Today announced plans to cease publication of the Central Florida Future, the newspaper targeting University of Central Florida students.

Serving the nation’s second-largest university with a population in excess of 61,000, many couldn’t get their arms around how this could happen.  After all, the Future started out as the on-campus, university-sponsored newspaper at my alma mater just two years short of half a century ago. The Central Florida news and PR community is heavily stacked with alumni from UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication … many of whom cut their journalistic teeth reporting and editing at the paper.

The Future became part of Florida Today in 2007 when its parent company Gannett purchased it after more than a decade of private ownership following a move off campus in 1992.

Oh my how times have changed … but it hardly seems surprising.  If this isn’t an omen for the future of printed newspapers, I don’t know what is.  As one of our UCF grad employees said, “The students don’t read that paper.  They only want the gossip they can get online.”

If that’s the case, the social and civic implications are just as concerning as the future it portends for newspapers in general.  Civic literacy scores have been plummeting for years with less than half of the tested population often failing tests that gauge their knowledge of how to participate in their communities.

Gannett didn’t get out of the business because it didn’t like young readers.  It got out because there weren’t any.  How we expect to rely on a generation that won’t read news (or can’t distinguish between news and gossip, commentary or online rants) is a scary proposition for those who have no choice but to place our faith in their ability to lead.


What is a Newspaper?

August 19, 2011

by Roger Pynn

Rarely do public relations people gather that the question doesn’t arise.  “Can newspapers survive?”

A GIGaom report by Mathew Ingram turned my head today and made me wonder if the question really ought to be “What is a newspaper?”  Ingram is reporting on the opinions of Joy Mayer who some are calling the “queen of engagement” because she’s preaching that the future of media is a two-way street where journalists have to engage and interact with their readers/followers/friends.

I agree with Mayer on many things.   But her guide to for the newsroom of the future has some interesting tips, including the need for “value statements” like “we continually alter what we cover, and how, based on what the audience responds to.”

To which I say, that isn’t a newspaper, Ms. Mayer, it is a highly commercial approach to delivering the news people want to hear rather than what journalists determine they need to hear through careful and thoughtful reportage.

If you follow that “value” to a logical end, newspapers of the future could expect to be manipulated by activists who bombard them every time they publish something they don’t like.  Imagine how easy it would be to redirect your local newspaper by “liking” them into not covering your blemishes.

In Ms. Mayer’s world the answer to the question “can newspapers survive?” is very simply a great big “NO,” because they won’t be newspapers they’ll be fulfillment services responding to our every whim rather than doing what newspapers are supposed to do … inform and educate us by employing journalists who will ask the questions we would ask if we could be on the scene when news is breaking.


Re-ordering the “Five W’s”

November 6, 2009

by Dan Ward

The transformation is complete. With its coverage of the Ft. Hood tragedy, my hometown paper has officially accepted that in a 24-hour news cycle, print newspapers no longer “break” the news.

The lead on the front page reads: “The suspected lone gunman in the shooting rampage that killed 12 people and wounded 31 at Fort Hood in Texas was a mental-health doctor apparently terrified that he would soon face the same horrors of war that patients had described to him.”

The story assumes that the reader of the print edition is already aware of the tragedy, having learned about it either through the online edition or some other source. Instead of beginning with the What, Where and When, the story leads analysis of the Who and the Why.

Only on page three do you see the traditional news lead: “In an act of violence that sent shock waves through the American military establishment and raised questions about base security, an Army psychiatrist armed with two handguns opened fire Thursday afternoon on the grounds of Fort Hood, Texas, military officials said.”

I’m ambivalent about the change in direction. I can understand how in today’s world, a majority of readers might be expected to have already heard about major news such as this. At the same time, I miss picking up the paper and seeing the traditional, hard-news lead that I learned to write in my journalism classes so long ago.


Oh, So Much to Write About

August 17, 2009

by Roger Pynn

Big Brother the lifetime journalist made a point I’ll not forget when he said he used to tell researchers “I don’t want to know what people say they want to see in their newspaper because that restricts them to thinking of newspapers.  Instead, I want to know what they want to know.”

Then I saw Orlando Sentinel Technology Writer Etan Horowitz tweet about Bill Wyman’s SpliceToday.com article (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/five-key-reasons-why-newspapers-are-failing) Five Key Reasons Why Newspapers Are Failing … and why they don’t get talked about.

Wyman takes darned near forever to tell you stuff you already knew.  It is history.  Nothing more … until he gets to the bitter end and offers up nine things he would do if put in charge of a chain of newspapers.

And there you will find out the real reason why newspapers are failing:  you shouldn’t put newspaper people in charge of papers.  I should know.  I was one.  But, I got out and learned how to run a business.

Despite what self-appointed cultural critic Wyman has to say, newspapers are far more than “shoppers” – those annoying freebies containing classified ads and awful excuses for display advertising.

Newspapers are advertising vehicles that made money because people wanted to know something … and rather than worrying about who else was supplying that information, they worked tirelessly to inform.

Unfortunately, as my brother obviously knew, readers’ perception of what made news was clearly shaped by their medium of choice.  As new media emerged, Troglodytes could no longer hide from pulp alternatives and it was only a matter of time until they realized that what they wanted to know was actually at TMZ.com (http://www.tmz.com/) where today’s EXCLUSIVE lead story is that according to Paula Abdul, “‘Idol’ Ain’t So Bad After All!”


The Kindle Effect

February 11, 2009

by Roger Pynn

Books on tape are a nice way to pass the time on a long road trip … particularly when you are driving alone. They usually feature the melodious voices of some of the world’s best known celebrities … or, at least a radio announcer with incredible pipes and the ability to bring the words to life as if you were in a theater.

Now comes Kindle version 2.0. The Kindle is an amazing little toy (yes, in this day and age toys can cost $359) for those who would rather not have books stack up beside their bed and gather dust after they have finished them.

However, the latest version of this electronic book (“wireless reading device”) from the folks at Amazon.com – in addition to a lot of neat features that techies will love – takes the electronic book to a new level: it reads to you in what someone described as “staccato clarity.” I think that means it sounds like a robot.

You know: “thank, you, for, calling, AT&T … please, listen, carefully, as, our, menu, has, changed.”

If you’re like me and were already worried that the demise of daily newspapers is going to have a chilling effect on literacy and citizenship, you should disable this feature if you buy the latest Kindle. You see, in addition to buying and downloading “books” to your device from Amazon, you can also subscribe to and receive from some digital newspaper boy a copy of today’s “newspaper.”

No. No! No! No! Don’t take away my newsprint and turn it into the voice of Oz!

Would someone please invent a pill that makes us all forever dependent upon the sensory pleasures of pulp?


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