I had an interesting phone conversation the other day with a London-based documentary filmmaker who is working on a project for the A&E Channel about community newspaper owners. He said I would have been perfect for the documentary.
The only problem is that I’m no longer a community newspaper owner. Had he gotten a hold of me this time last year, I very well could have been the next reality show Kim Kardashian or Gene Simmons.
I have to admit I felt a little sick to my stomach at the poor timing and potential opportunity that could have been for me. I gave him a couple of suggestions for some local newspaper owners he might use instead and I offered my “expert” services if he needed them.
Putting aside my initial disappointment, I think that a documentary/reality show about community newspapers is a great idea. I’ve always felt that newspapers suffered mostly from an image problem. The general public thinks newspapers are old-fashioned, outmoded, obsolete.
People — wrongly — think news stories just magically appear on the Internet.
People — wrongly — think newspapers are behind the times.
People — wrongly — think that community newspapers don’t cover important stories.
I think the newspaper industry could use a good shot in the arm from a little positive media coverage for a change.
But let me put a little caveat to all of this: Please don’t pick newspaper owners that simply play into that worn stereotype of the slightly kooky, crusading, fight-picking, gin-drinking rabble-rouser who uses his newspaper as a personal attack sheet, tilting at every windmill he can find.
That type of show would serve only to perpetuate the myth that newspapers are a thing of the past, a quirky little leftover of yesteryear like black-and-white television and the milkman.
Alas, I suspect, though, that that’s the reason I was called.
One of the things this gentleman told me was that he saw my photo on my blog, the one with the fedora, pipe and golf club, and he thought, “This guy’s perfect, a real character.”
Despite my best efforts, however, I am not a character.
I don’t actually wear a fedora, I don’t smoke a pipe and I really don’t golf much anymore. Yes, I am kind of a hard-bitten, old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool newspaper guy, but only in the good ways.
I believe newspapers, particularly community newspapers, provide important information that no one else would provide you if newspapers didn’t exist. Newspapers, particularly community newspapers, are at City Council meetings, school board meetings, reporting about budgets, sewer rates, tax levies. The stuff that community newspapers report on, I argue, have a greater direct impact on your everyday life than just about anything that comes out of Washington.
But I fear that the common misperception will continue to be spread, that community newspapers, run by people with little or no professional training, cover such quaint events as escaped animals on the loose and run front-page stories accusing the government of wrongdoing with little or no proof.
I would love to see a reality show that documents the day-to-day life of professionally run, locally owned community newspapers that cover their communities in myriad important ways.
But just as in the newspaper world, the question for such a show would be, “Would anyone watch?”