Editorial: Why Nashville needs newspapers

Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 9:05pm
By the staff of The City Paper
CPFinalCover.jpg

Print edition cover, final issue, The City Paper

 

We arrive here at the end.

By the time you read this, the staff of The City Paper will have likely disbanded, our last issue printed and our website updated for the last time.

We don’t say this to be morose. The media landscape is changing, and our particular model — a free print newspaper with a corresponding free Internet home — did not produce enough revenue to survive. And while we’re not happy about this, we understand that these are the risks that come with being a journalist in the 21st century.

But enough about us. Let’s talk about you.

You live in a city that has had competitive newspapers for much of the past two centuries. Those rivalries have been good to you. They’ve given you choice. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve provided competition, which improved the papers. Even in The City Paper’s current capacity — our entire staff could meet comfortably in The Tennessean’s conference room, with a few chairs left over — we have been a motivating force, pushing our rival to break news and tell better stories.

And now that pressure will be gone, along with one of your choices. We believe passionately that newspapers — or their work online, we make no distinction here — improve the lives of people. We believe that Nashville needs more professional journalists, not fewer. And as we depart, we urge you to support — indeed, fight for — the continued survival of newspapers. Here’s why.

 

1. Newspapers watch over the government

A former lawmaker laughed as he told a member of our staff that local politicians are probably (albeit secretly) happy with this paper’s demise. But that’s not a surprise. Fewer news outlets means fewer people sniffing around. After all, you don’t do more with less. You do less with less.

The most sacred duty of a newspaper is to report on government, its power, and how those vested with that power ultimately use it. Government is a living, breathing thing. It changes its behavior and form depending on who pulls its leash.

Government also shapes lives, paves roads, hires teachers, chases criminals, provides a safety net and picks up the pieces when something like a 100-year flood hits us.

But government, like its people, can make errors.

Newspapers, more than any other source, are uniquely suited to press the government — and the public servants who run it — to maintain its responsibility to the people. That demands experience, diligence, analysis, context — things that are impossible to glean from a reposted press release. The best papers ask tough questions of your leaders, in a necessary adversarial role, so they remain accountable.

Sadly, publications that once drove the government beat are now yellowed and deceased. The ones that are left dedicate fewer reporters to watch huge budgets — $30 billion at the state level, $1.8 billion in Metro — and the policy decisions that shape citizens’ lives.

That isn’t the only crucial beat where the news industry is fielding a weakened team. As of next week, there will be no full-time dedicated courts reporter in Nashville. A quick scan of the legal landscape shows a U.S. district court, a chancery court, a circuit court, a criminal court, and a state supreme court. There’s also a U.S. attorney’s office, a district attorney’s office, a public defender’s office, a metropolitan police department and a sheriff’s office. We couldn’t cover enough of them. Similarly, the Associated Press bureau — the staff that covers news across the entire state — will be down to four people by month’s end.

Broadcast TV news and radio do their part, and they have good people who do fine work. But their medium often lacks the space, depth and focus to provide the thorough coverage newspapers can leverage on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s a matter of defending the public’s right to know. This newspaper spent thousands of dollars in court, for example, fighting for access to public records in an investigation into recruiting violations at Montgomery Bell Academy. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association fought tooth and nail to keep those records secret — and to be clear, they are still fighting. Other agencies still tightly clutch their records, refusing to give them up for less than astronomical fees or a judge’s order.

The fight for open records and government transparency isn’t about digging through dirty laundry. It’s a means to understanding how institutions work, what their priorities are, and how they make their decisions — whether it’s in a speaker’s back office or in a smoke-filled room. It’s the ability to see whether an institution’s public face and private actions match up.

Quality government reporting goes beyond the stage show of what happened at last night’s council meeting or the hearing up on the Hill. In a capital city whose politics are smaller than they look, newspapers piece together what happened at those meetings behind the scenes, and what motivations are the undercurrents of every decision.

Reporting on government is more than tuning in for a big vote on the House floor or noting when lawmakers make outrageous statements. It’s a public mission and a public trust to keep government, and those in it, honest.

 

2. Newspapers inform a community

At a fundamental level, the transaction between a newspaper and its readers is — to paraphrase media critic Jay Rosen — “We were there, you weren’t, let us tell you about it.”

We were at the council meeting, and you couldn’t be, what with a full-time job and two kids. So let us tell you what they did, what they said it means — and, if necessary, what it really means. We were at the Titans game, and maybe you were too, but we were also at practice earlier in the week and in the locker room after the game. So let us tell you why that third down went wrong in the fourth quarter.

We know you saw that gang leader who was arrested, but did you know he has a history of intimidating witnesses? We saw a preview screening of the latest summer blockbuster, and you’re waiting to see if you should pay full price, so let us tell you — wait for the video.

It’s the same transaction that takes place across dinner tables every night, but with a working journalist paid to take care of two-thirds of the equation every time. A person whose entire job is to be where you’re not, and then keep you informed of what you missed.

The relationship depends on trust. It would be entirely reasonable for a community to wish to select the correspondents who act as witnesses and watchdogs around town on their behalf. But of course, that’s not how it works. Reporters are hired, and readers must determine whether they can be trusted. More broadly, readers must determine whether the publication that hired those reporters can be trusted. If it can’t, why pick it up?

That’s why a city needs more than one newspaper — and ideally, more than two. Competing newspapers are essentially vying for readers’ trust. They have an existential incentive to do so. And if they all meet the test, then all the better for citizens.

Of course, in the digital age, information is never lacking for those who seek it. The proliferation of self-publishing means anyone can be a correspondent, adding to an ever-growing stream of opinion and observations about anything happening anywhere. That has allowed invaluable contributions in various forms — 140-character dispatches, 1,000-word blog pieces, Instagram photos and YouTube videos. It’s hard to argue that this development has not resulted in a net gain for anyone who wants to know more about the world we live in. But if this new reality has left citizens trying to drink from the proverbial fire hose, newspapers seek to offer a steady pour.

That pour, at its best, filters out the noise. The noise of corporations and public relations firms trying to control a message. The noise of politicians and spokespeople trying very hard to shape the news to fit their own worldview.

Professional news outlets of all kinds have undeniably failed in this regard on occasion. Most recent in our memory is the Boston Marathon bombing, and the chaotic manhunt that followed it. Too often in those first 24 hours, the filter was off, and news organizations magnified confusing noise instead of cutting through it.

But what any community needs — whether it’s the nation or Nashville — is a set of people who show up the next day. Whatever their missteps in the middle of a storm, when any number of sources are trying to describe what seems to be happening, professional journalists have an obligation to show up the day after — to work out what really happened, and to begin explaining how and why.

The sort of people who end up in this business can take the value of being informed for granted. To the kind of information junkie who works at a newspaper, it’s an obsession and compulsion on top of a civic duty. If you’re reading this, you may share that obsession.

But as national and local sources of consistent, reliable information are weakened, if not lost, it’s worth making the case again: That the voting booth is only powerful if it’s occupied by citizens who know what the candidates have said and done, and what they plan to do. That a neighborhood’s residents deserve to have someone asking the police questions on their behalf. That it’s worth knowing who owns the sandwich shop down the street, or how the local hockey team is doing.

The reason isn’t just that knowledge is power, although it is. It’s because shared knowledge binds people together. It makes a community stronger at the ballot box and around the water cooler. For all their warts, newspapers have provided that for well over 100 years. We believe professional journalists still should.

 

3. The obligation going forward

So where does this leave us?

In the future, Nashvillians are going to have to pay for their news somehow if they want journalism. The model that supported journalism in the 20th century — advertiser-supported — shows few signs of being able to make it stronger in the 21st. The City Paper had a tremendous readership, for which we will always be grateful. But we were unable to monetize that — to find enough ad dollars to pay for the reporters who covered the courts, staked out the council meetings, went to the games, and tried to help you understand this city. If we had an answer for this quandary, we probably wouldn’t be publishing our last edition.

What the weeks since our closing was announced have made clear, though, is that Nashville wants newspapers. Emails and voicemails and people stopping us on the street and in shops have emphatically made the point that Nashvillians want to support sources of news.

So what can you do?

Buy a newspaper or subscribe online. We subscribe to The Tennessean. No, we don’t think Gannett has been particularly good for the city, and the recent layoff news at 1100 Broadway only strengthens the notion that big corporate ownership doesn’t care about Nashville. And yes, some of the things they do — like running press releases from hospitals and calling it health coverage — drive us nuts. But, frankly, they are the daily paper we have. The Tennessean still employs committed journalists who cover the city.

(We should also note that our colleagues at the Nashville Post, professional journalists all, operate a daily, subscription website.)

Support an advertiser. Advertisers are consumers, just like we are. They want to know if they’re spending their money wisely. If you find something in an advertisement useful, let them know where you saw it. It may seem simple, but it’s important. Free publications like like the Nashville Scene, Nashville Ledger or TNReport depend on advertising or other non-subscription means to survive.

Most of all, engage the media you have. Whether it’s traditional media or new, print or broadcast or something in between, the barriers between audience and the media are disappearing all the time. If you are on social media, share the news that matters to you. If you like or dislike a story, the phone numbers and email addresses of virtually every editor and reporter in town are easily available. If you like something you read, demand more. If you don’t like it, demand better.

Whatever changes come to Nashville’s media landscape, the only certainty we have is that The City Paper will no longer be around to see, report or affect those developments. But today we are looking at a city that’s very different from the one The City Paper set out to cover 13 years ago, day in, day out. It is an exciting place, bursting with promise and potential, and in some small way we like to think we had a hand in that. For that is another thing newspapers do. They don’t just hold up mirrors so a city can see itself clearly. At their best, they open windows so a city can see what is possible.

Thank you for reading The City Paper. It's been our honor to tell Nashville's stories.

 

Sincerely,

Steve Cavendish, Editor

James Nix, Managing Editor

Jerome Boettcher

David Boclair

Michael W. Bunch

Geert De Lombaerde

Eric England

Dana Kopp Franklin

Steven Hale

Harold Huggins

Emily Kubis

J.R. Lind

Bret Pelizzari

William Williams

Abby White

Andrea Zelinski

 

 

Filed under: City News

37 Comments on this post:

By: yogiman on 8/9/13 at 7:04

I have enjoyed reading and writing in the editorial privilege section of the NCP for several years now. And I would have been glad to pay for a subscription but was never charged for that privilege.

I've been arguing with a number of other readers on the illegality of the man sitting in our Oval Office for some time now. And as the old saying goes: Time will tell which of us was correct.

Thank you NCP, for that privilege.

By: courier37027 on 8/9/13 at 7:04

Too often the media are told what to print or broadcast. Cal it laziness, lack of investigative journalism, media bias, lack of budget, carrying the water for a politician, whatever. NCP, you were as guilty of these charges as the finger you point at others.

Frankly, the newspaper has gone the way of the pager: too many technology advancements left paper and pagers in the dust.

By: Captain Nemo on 8/9/13 at 7:25

Nashville is a poorer city with out The City Paper.

By: BigPapa on 8/9/13 at 7:47

I have to say The City Paper will be missed. The coverage of local topics is really where it excelled. Issues like the Fairgrounds, the Thermal site, the conventions center, charter schools, heck even the purposed closing of the cordell hull building, these are things that actually affect us.
I always found it funny that no matter what issue came up on the boards, some nut bag would blame either Obama or Bush. The macro stuff is so far removed from us that is operates in the abstract, it's the micro stuff that we need to worry about. That's new buildings, zoning changes, historic overlays, the opening & closing of businesses.

I'll miss the city paper and this forum to vent.

By: CrimesDown on 8/9/13 at 7:56

I hate the NCP is closing.

By: bfra on 8/9/13 at 8:10

The City Paper brought more thorough news to the people, with better details. I'll also miss the NCP. Good Luck to all that helped create the CP & the best wishes in whatever you choose after today.

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 8/9/13 at 8:14

This is an accurate and excellent column. The City Paper provided Nashville with a lot of greatly needed information.

I guess some of the more active commenters will now spend their time calling radio shows to express their unusual views.

By: waynebob on 8/9/13 at 8:22

Thank you for all your hard work and love for our city!

By: Funditto on 8/9/13 at 8:41

Farewell old friends.

Of note, I did part-time stints at NCP, Tennessean, The Ledger and few others. Without exception, the staff at these pubs were brilliant and truly cared about getting the facts right - whether they agreed with them or not.
It's sad now that most of us will have to rely on unfiltered, unfact-checked and extremely biased news on the net or cable.

While I haven't been on here in ages, I'll miss blanket, Loner, Nemo and yes, even Budlight's oversharing. I'm still a little afraid of Serr8d and yogiman and hope they are just harmless, grumpy old men with nothing else to do but troll. I'm certain they will find another place to spew their hate and fear.

Hope ya'll have a nice life!

By: tnrebgirl on 8/9/13 at 8:43

Brilliant editorial. You will be missed.

By: Funditto on 8/9/13 at 8:43

Oh, and I hope the Scene will edit a little better, decrease the word count in their stories and increase their font size. It's a chore to read these days.

By: bepieper on 8/9/13 at 9:07

This is an unfortunate thing for Nashville. The City Paper was willing to speak out against powerful voices, to credibly challenge, question, investigate, second-guess and critically examine, as journalists should do. You will be missed.

By: Moonglow1 on 8/9/13 at 9:15

Moonglow1: thank you for this thoughtful editorial. I will miss The City Paper. Yours was the only local paper I read consistently. It is a shame that some philanthropist can't jump in and help salvage this wonderful paper....

By: wasaw on 8/9/13 at 9:16

Sorry guys, you brought on your own demise. Your leftist, liberal views of the world haven't been swallowed by your readers. Many of your writers are young, lack of world's experiences. Maybe they shouldn't have accepted, without question, the ideas of their mostly liberal, far left professors. Your writers are only a microcosm of what's coming out of our institutions are lower learning. Unfortunately, your senior supervisors have obviously never lived in the real world.
When was the last investigative piece directed at the liberal left? Guys, there might be a liberal congressman in this Fifth Congressional district, but if you look around, the majority right has installed it's representatives in the seats that are in control, and matter.
Your readership has turned its back on your liberal outlook on life. They don't think that the government has the responsibility to support them. They don't think the government has the responsibility to supply healthcare. They don't think that the government has the responsibility to feed and house them. They don't think the government should give its permission to kill unborn babies.
Wake up guys. The folks who've monetarily supported your rag has said "No more". Your product is no longer needed.. You've damaged this great city and nation enough! You might find success over in Greece, Russia, or possibly in the southern Americas. I hate to see anyone lose a family supporting job, but you guys did nothing to strengthen America. BTW, are their any veterans on your staff?

By: Yenzie on 8/9/13 at 9:19

There's more:
Newspapers not only inform a community, they help create community--in many different ways.
But most importantly, perhaps, in an age of "The Big Sort," when cities are becoming increasingly Blue and collar counties are becoming increasingly Red, papers help provide some oversight and accountability to fill the void left by real political competition. Davidson County is now solidly blue--as blue as Massachusetts if the last presidential election results are any indicator. "The Tennessean" is just as blue. And there's the problem. Blue papers are unlikely to hold Democrat politicians and judges to account, just as Red papers are unlikely to dig into the shenanigans of Republican lawmakers. Every solidly Blue city needs a Red(ish) or fiercely independent paper, just as every solidly Red county needs the opposite. Otherwise you wind up with political machines that do as they please and get away with it. When any city becomes so lopsidedly Blue (or Red) that it can't support some sort of local news outlet with a critical political viewpoint, it spells trouble.

By: codyle on 8/9/13 at 9:22

It is a sad day for all of us. You will be missed. Thanks for putting out a first rate product. I will miss all of the bantering back and forth in the comment sections and the stories that other publications chose not to bother themselves with. I always looked forward to reading the CP. You were the danish to my morning coffee and a good friend. I am sorry to see you go. Best of luck to all of you as you close this door to walk through others that will open for you.

By: Loner on 8/9/13 at 9:37

I left this comment here:

http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/weekly-obsession-dim-future-newspapers-nashville#comment-391549

I think that it fits here as well:

By: Loner on 8/9/13 at 8:02

Excellent commentary, JR Lind....thought-provoking and well-written.

The demise of "dead tree" newspapers is not altogether a bad thing, IMO; it's got to be good for the environment.

Some newspapers will fail to evolve to the rapidly changing media and cultural environments; others will adapt to the new paradigm and prosper.....apparently, the Nashville City Paper falls into the former, not the latter category.

Any newspaper that relies upon advertising revenues to survive has already compromised its editorial integrity to some degree....nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them. Conflicts of interest are naturally going to occur.

As for the idea of a benevolent hero riding in on a white horse, to save Nashville's newspapers from extinction, be careful of what you wish for....sometimes these "benevolent" saviors turn out to be self-serving scoundrels and /or closed-minded ideologues.

Maybe, something will rise from the smoke and ash, Phoenix-like, to replace the defunct newspapers....in a free society, where there is a demand, someone will supply the service and/or the product.

Although I live in Spencerport, NY, I have posted on the NCP for several years; so, I will greatly miss this online site and its posting community....this was my link to Music City and the Volunteer state....I am truly saddened by the loss of the Nashville City Paper.

By: Loner on 8/9/13 at 9:54

Food for thought from a modern-day prophet:

Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today's job with yesterday's tools and yesterday's concepts.

The new electronic independence re-creates the world in the image of a global village.

As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of 'do it yourself.'

Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.

The medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan

Source:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/marshall_mcluhan.html

By: jonw on 8/9/13 at 10:02

wasaw, I think you were entirely too tough on The City Paper. I am about as conservative as they come. When comparing this paper with their competition, & news media in general, lt stacked up very well.

By: Paula lovell on 8/9/13 at 10:04

I have enjoyed The City Paper since the day it was first published. Whether I agreed or not with every position, I greatly appreciated the voice in Nashville. You will be missed.

By: capt4chris on 8/9/13 at 10:31

I've been reading the NCP since I moved to Nashville about 10 years ago. Thank you for all the hard work everyone has done over the years. I hope everyone lands on their feet.

Please preserve all the articles in some way for archive purposes. I know there are articles that I'd still like to reference in the years to come!

By: pswindle on 8/9/13 at 1:07

Thanks for a great run. I'll miss the paper. I learned something everyday by reading the NCP, and the posts of thinking individuals.

By: airvols on 8/9/13 at 1:36

First let me say wasaw is totally wrong, but what would you expect from a right wing flag waver that kisses the coat tails of talk radio that is on it's last breath. Your Limbaugh and Hannity shows are dying because America is totally fed up with the hate they permeate. Win any elections lately? Now on to the real story. Thank you for a great newspaper. Thank you for not being the cookie cutter news we get from the Tennessean. I will miss the local coverage because you did it better than anyone I the market. Farewell!

By: WayneR on 8/9/13 at 1:36

PhiberOptik

I will add my voice to those who will miss TCP. You have been a great read.

PhiberO

By: terryquillen on 8/9/13 at 2:19

This is a fine and fitting tribute to the industry and the profession. Beyond the industry and the institutions, though, are the individuals who have given them life. From the police reporter sent to cover a bridge jumper who ended up talking the guy down, to the reporter who delivers breaking news by Twitter and takes the old-school risk every week of writing biting commentary, these professionals grower fewer by the day. As a city, we are poorer for that because they are part of what has made Nashville everything from the It City to the Athens of the South. To the commenters -- yes, I bring a decided bias, on several levels. I also bring the hope that there is a way out of this spiral, perhaps the financial savior mentioned in a column elsewhere in this last edition. The words, whether in print or on line, are pricey. But those who write them are priceless...Terry Quillen

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 8/9/13 at 5:03

judyboodo

Thank you City Paper, every edition I read in every year. Your bias was right down the middle if one takes into consideration the individualistic content that makes the entertaining and informative basis of a good newspaper. I most enjoyed the commentary of the cast of characters that wrote in every issue. Even though I knew what the slant would be by just reading their bylines it was one of the highlights of my day. Yogi, bfra, Big Papa, Loner, Funditto, pswindle, Moonglow, and all those that I've missed somehow and not to be overly sentimental but I'll miss your views, However twisted and malformed they may be. Good luck to all of the staff members in their future endeavors. Farewell fellow NCP'ers, may the wind be at your back.
P.S. I'm not really a girl.

By: slzy on 8/9/13 at 5:58

don't buy the Tennessean,drop by the library to read it.

By: Mike Burch on 8/9/13 at 6:53

The City Paper will be missed.

It was my honor and pleasure to write a weekly City Voices column for the last three years, and I think the world of the editors I worked with: William Williams and James Nix.

We need someone to keep the government honest. Hopefully bloggers and other concerned citizens will step up to the plate and pinch hit for the professionals.

My best wishes the staff of the City Paper, and I hope they all land on their feet ...

Mike Burch

By: hummingbirdhill on 8/9/13 at 7:12

hummingbirdhill
Can't let this go - wasaw you are an idiot. There is no finer vetern in the business of journalism than Harold Huggins. A man and writer of integrity who has and always will be willing to cover the story no one else in this city is willing to cover - the high school prep student.

thank you Harold and the rest of the staff. You have done good work.

By: howelln on 8/9/13 at 10:16

I will miss you very much. I would pay for your paper.

By: ohplease on 8/9/13 at 10:47

I'm another reader who would have happily paid for a subscription to the NCP. Your paper will be greatly missed. And I'll even miss the consistent posters whose comments are always predictable and whose logic eludes me. And as capt4chris said, I hope you'll archive your years of papers so that they can be accessed online. They are a really good source of community news. Best wishes to your staff.

By: cyndietodd on 8/10/13 at 12:18

Nashville has become a terrible town in which to be a journalist.

Gannett needs to be run out on a rail.

By: 28tbone on 8/10/13 at 9:00

Ahh- one last shot at MBA.

Other than that, NCP will be missed.

By: pfbird on 8/10/13 at 5:59

Thanks for the memories, City Paper. As an alumnus of the Nashville Banner, I have a special appreciation for what journalism can contribute to a community. You did well, and you've done good.

By: Specter47 on 8/11/13 at 7:38

I've thoroughly enjoyed the City Paper and the bantering back and forth with other readers. I've appreciated your take on the issues, even though I have an opposite opinion on most issues. I've had many a laugh over some of the comments left by readers when they post things like "airvols" comment about Limbaugh and Hannity's shows declining. Wow...where did he/she get THAT info? Obviously wishful thinking.

I will miss CP and connecting with my beloved Nashville from another city where I had to move. You kept me in touch. Thanks so much and best of luck to your employees as they move on...even if they are wrong. :)

By: yucchhii on 8/13/13 at 1:48

Guess it's just as well. People who string you along when it comes to printing an urgent story that really needed to get out..RE: Homeless being treated inhumanely at the Nashville rescue mission. Making you THINK their about to print the story and never do and after I called and wrote emails to you guys about it and you guys never gave me a REASONABLE excuse why you weren't doing anything with it. What's the matter...you all had your hand in the mission pot? Well, looks like you won't get to write about ANYTHING anymore. Oh well, so your gone. BYE!!

By: Loner on 8/13/13 at 3:14

The hard-copy office has shut down....but this last online edition and its comment boards remain....archives too....that's got to be something new...in the past, when the paper went down, it went down....the NCP remains somewhat alive, I suppose, as long as the electrons keep flowing....analogous to a coma, I suppose.....a vegetative state.