Coyote Works

The Result Of The Interim Blog Reset

Pondering the News Biz

Sun Mar 28 18:11:16 2021 — Stephen Michael Kellat

Sometimes the news about the business of news gets rather weird. There was a very brief news item on NPR’s Weekend Edition that mentioned a newspaper in Kansas City that published a blank front page. The Kansas City Star reported that it was not them that did it and explained which local weekly paper engaged in the stunt to highlight its dire economic condition.

That’s one end of the odd news. In another respect there were posts on Twitter by Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi highlighting an article in the New York Times entitled On Google Podcasts, a Buffet of Hate. The paradigm of podcasting appears to be facing interesting threats that I don’t think anybody ever anticipated. I do think the pop culture reporter at the Times would be rather shocked to learn of an extremely broad world of podcast applications beyond Google Podcasts. Considering what he covers he certainly should know these things yet this horribly slanted piece gets published denigrating podcasting. Very odd.

Why bring this up at all? My local area has difficulties in terms of getting the word out about anything to people let alone providing news coverage to mass audiences. Things that once would have been covered by news reporters nowadays simply proceed unnoticed and unremarked.

Part of the problem is that Ashtabula County is an area that could be fairly described as economically disadvantaged. The most recent county profile data from the Ohio Development Services Agency indicates:

  • The projected 2020 population is roughly above 95,000 and is projected to fall to 89,700 by 2030.

  • The local population is predominantly white with only 10.3% of the population found to be minorities.

  • The median age is 42.4 years old.

  • Out of the county population 25 years old and older the portion without a high school diploma is 14%

  • 7.8% of the 25 or older population have a two year undergraduate degree

  • 9.2% of the 25 or older population have a four year undergraduate degree

  • 4.9% of the 25 or older population have a master’s degree or higher

  • The single daily newspaper in the county has a circulation of just 7,500.

  • The four weekly newspapers in the county have a combined circulation of 11,200.

  • There is no local television station. There are eight radio stations. Beyond the ODSA report and based upon my own observations none of the eight originate any local news reports.

This does not create a stable environment for information to get around. With low newspaper readership and no other coverage of local news the only way people find out about what is happening locally is seemingly by the dreaded Facebook. Yes, that particular echo chamber that helped bring us the events of January 6th.

Starting a competing newspaper is not an easy proposition economically right now. The idea driving the project to set things up in LaTeX as much as possible is not to be ornery and difficult but to be able to cut costs. Spending the time to do page layout costs money which is scarce. Reverting to a sort of 19th century layout style would allow for automated layout, easier ingestion of material through various CTAN packages, and other remove some human capital costs. Making it easier to ingest wire service-like content from sources like the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service and Ohio News Connection/Public News Service would ensure that that sort of content was there so that human capital could be spent on chasing down local stories. There would be other things to be hammered out such as finding commercial printing but theoretically this would be doable to launch. The question would be if anybody would actually read it in the current social climate.

While it would be awesome to see such a thing happen there is no way to duplicate having a station like KVZK-TV to provide television service for Ashtabula County. Depending upon where you live in the county you receive television signals from metro Cleveland, metro Youngstown, or Erie, Pennsylvania. Stations in those commnities don’t really cover Ashtabula much. Nielsen claims Ashtabula County is part of the “Designated Market Area” for Cleveland but the over the air signals of the Cleveland stations don’t actually reach out here.

I wish I could say that a streaming solution of some sort would easily handle all the current affairs and news needs in my local area. The coronavirus crisis has shown how bad the broadband situation is across the United States. A story from WKSU-FM explicitly talks about how remote learning for K-12 students has failed locally due to our broadband service being unable to meet needs. I am a frequent attendee of Ashtabula County Broadband Taskforce meetings where we look for solutions to try to make things better. There are no easy fixes in sight, though.

People getting the majority of their news from Facebook on a cell phone is detrimental to social cohesion as we’ve learned the hard way in the USA. I participated in the NORC 2020 Election Research Project that looked at the impact of social media on elections and am very eager to see their report later this year. With so much happening in my local community that is not being covered.

When one of your biggest stories in your local newspaper’s weekend edition is the school board president finding somebody’s missing dentures then perhaps something has gone horribly wrong with the local media. We may not be printing blank front pages here but the local daily newspaper is not too healthy operationally, it seems. Something needs to be done.

As I finish this up the lights just flickered out and the UPS units just screamed thanks to the wind storm we’re having at the moment. We’re not high enough up the ladder scaling Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs locally. There is no easy answer to any of this which is why it seems like I appear stuck with the problem. Eventually clarity will dawn.

Tags: Issues, Life, Social Matters