“A Place Where You Make Sense of Things”

April 28, 2010 at 9:59 pm (Uncategorized)

My journalism class just took the trip over to the Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA to do a press conference with the editor, Larry Parnass.  He had quite a few really interesting things to say.  I enjoyed the visit because I had never been in a newsroom before.  It is one thing to learn about the workings of paper in class, but it is a whole other thing to actually get to see it in action. 

One of the major topics we discussed about was the paper’s online website.  He says that many people are attracted to reading their paper online because of the social networking aspect; everyone loves to share their own personal stories and opinion on different pieces.  Even though the paper is making a decent amount of money from internet-only prescriptions, he says “it is almost like a religious war” with the advertising situation.  This is because ads cost as little as 1/10 as they do in print version, so it is causing them, and a lot of other major newspapers,  to lose a lot of money.  He says that having viewers pay an online prescription is working short-term, but not long-term, and they are trying to figure out how to fix that situation very quickly.  There is already a lot of free articles on the site, such as all the major stories, but discussion is being taken place to put even more free content on, like videos and multimedia.  

Next we got onto the issue of new  media versus the old-fashioned newspaper.  One of the major pros of having a print version is the letters to the editor section.  It is similar to commenting on blogs on the internet, but it has one great advantage. Almost always on the web people are reading blogs and comments that are already supportive of their own views; this is because the web is so links-rich.  So basically the comments and opinions you are usually going to see is only confirming the ideas you have.  Letters to the editor, however, has no links or related searches attached to them.  One has the opportunity to read an opinion that might be entirely different from their own.  Parnass says that he loves letters to the editor, especially when they take a more conservative approach, since the majority of people in the valley are liberal.  And most of the time, the letters are in direct response to other letters.   In addition, the old fashion approach lets a paper do what it needs to – it shows what the community is saying and acts as a  good “moderator for news.”  He jokes about the old ways and says “I think the cutoff is 35 now.”  Usually when breaking a story, it is put on the web the night before it’s in the paper.  Ideally, he says, with the new technology available to us, stories should be posted as they learn them. 

Another interesting topic was the Gazette’s editorial board.  Parnass is in charge of it, along with being editor of the paper, but other people work on it as well.  He says that is “a place where you make sense of things.”  It has recently greatly improved and much more of an emphasis is being placed on it.  A lot of the time, they use the space to celebrate all of the good things that are happening in the valley, which he says “is an extraordinary place” largely due to the five colleges.  Just recently, they ran two earth day editorials about the earth day events in North Hampton.  There really has not been an earth day celebration there before, so the Gazette wanted to discover why this year.

The general financial picture of the paper is that they are struggling, but making profit.  Again, advertising through the economic crisis has been extremely hard, especially because the businesses in North Hampton are small restaurants and retail.  Their news hole is getting smaller and smaller; the paper now has to be 40% advertisements.  However, the biggest loss is the classifieds, which are now all currently online.  The classified section was like “the goose that was laying the golden egg.”  It made them a ton of money before it all went to the web.  He related a story about the Boston Globe, who used to put out a very thick classified section that was like printing money.  They got an offer to sign up with Monster.com for 1,000,000 dollars, but turned it down.  Who knew what a horrible decision that would turn out to be?  The Gazette, however, has just signed on with Monster, and that deal should be put into effect soon. 

Next, we talked about cutbacks in employment, which is happening throughout their entire paper.  Six job spots have been cut over two years, and they are not independently owned anymore.  Up until five years ago, one person owned the entire Gazette, but now they are using a new company for distributing their paper.  Using this new company for distribution is saving them about ¼ million dollars.  Many citizens were furious at this because the company refuses to hire children, so after 240 years, kids cannot deliver the paper anymore.  There were quite a few angry letters were written, saying that it is the only job kids can get and builds character by driving their bikes through the snow.

The final piece of advice Larry Parnass had for us inspiring journalists is internships.  It is important for us to show that we have done work outside of the classroom.  It is a competitive market and it’s essential to get in some real world experience.

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1 Comment

  1. David Perkins said,

    Excellent summary of the visit, Angela! GREAT blogging!
    DP

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