National project puts Press on stage

Website picks local paper as Idaho representative

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WNN reporter, Sara Brown, and WNN producer, Paul Steinle, visited the Coeur dŐAlene Press on April 26, 2011.

COEUR d'ALENE - It's a legitimate question: Who the heck needs newspapers?

And an equally legitimate answer is unfolding: Who doesn't?

According to the website whoneedsnewspapers.org, six media representatives joined forces to create a 501(c)(3) corporation in May 2010 and explore some of those answers. First goal of the group was to visit 50 newspapers - one from each state - document its findings and post them on the Internet.

The Press was chosen to represent Idaho, and just this week, whoneedsnewspapers.org posted its Press report online. (Go to whoneedsnewspapers.org and click on the state of Idaho.)

Veteran journalists and educators Paul Steinle, president of the organization, and Sara Brown, its secretary-treasurer, visited Coeur d'Alene in late April to document the impact of The Press on the community.

Steinle said his team looks for papers of different sizes and different ownership models, from large dailies to small weeklies. Recommendations from state press associations are sought.

"We're also looking for general excellence and innovation," he said.

While The Press isn't the most innovative paper they've encountered - at least in part by design, Steinle added - it hits the mark with quality local reporting.

"You're focusing on the fundamentals, providing a rich diet of news and information for the community and region," he said. "Your strategy is as effective as anything we've seen."

Press Publisher Jim Thompson said the interview experience - being in the hot seat for a change - gave him a slightly different perspective on his business.

"Agreeing to be interviewed by a journalist and actually sitting down for the interview are two different things," said Thompson, Press publisher since 1994. "Anyone who's ever been confronted by a reporter or a photojournalist knows that feeling. They control the questions."

In addition to Thompson, Who Needs Newspapers interviewed Managing Editor Mike Patrick and Online Director Mike Alexander.

Video segments of Thompson cover topics ranging from strategic changes at The Press to adapting for future readers and advertisers.

Patrick discusses ethics and digital content, newsroom changes and preparation for the future, and offers some advice to prospective journalists.

Alexander talks about competitive skills, the two Press online products (a pay site, cdapressextra.com, and a free site, cdapress.com), and the overall goals and future for Press online business.

All three men also address the relationship of the newspaper with the community.

Who Needs Newspapers lists three goals:

1. Provide the newspaper industry with fresh information about how change is being managed - with an emphasis on what works and what doesn't work;

2. Clarify the value of local newspapers for the public; and

3. Collect useful insights for students considering journalism careers.

So, with 40 states down and 10 to go, what has Steinle concluded?

"Losing a newspaper would be a major injury to any community," he said.

When it comes to keeping readers informed about local government, activities in their region and changes in their marketplace, newspapers have no peer.

"Nothing else is as powerful as they are," he said.

Find it on the web

Whoneedsnewspapers.org

• Click on Idaho

With the posting of its report on the Coeur D'Alene Press, the "Who Needs Newspapers?" website -- www.whoneedsnewspapers.org -- now features reports from 40 newspapers across the United States. When the first year of the project is completed, the first week of October 2011, the website will have reports on local newspapers in all 50 states.

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