Another Argus response…

This time from the Argus Leader‘s weblog — Patrick Lalley, to be specific.

The subject: I’m taken to task for saying the Argus has dumbed down its content, that change is bad and that newspapers should stick to their guns and keep doing what they do best. He makes good points — points I probably didn’t think too deeply about because, well, I was forming an opinion based on my view of the newspaper. An opinion that I’m not alone in expressing.

Two things (I’m not going to rip the article apart bit by bit. He does manage to stick it to me a few times. I’ll admit that. His job is to convincingly opine. He does it well.):

If you read the blogs in this state at all, and I do, you’ll see our work every day. Often excerpted in length rather than linked, but that’s another issue. Even when you see a link to another newspaper, many times it’s a wire story on their Web site rewritten by the AP from our newspaper. Other newspapers in South Dakota do fine work, that’s not the issue either.

True. Very true. However, there are very few newspapers to choose from in this area. I’d bet most Omaha stories come from the Omaha World Herald. Most Minneapolis/St. Paul stories come from the Strib or Pioneer Press. This is a matter of location, maybe even more so than one of style.

But what bugs more than anything about Vilhauer’s contention is this… “Instead of writing about things that a newspaper reader would care about, the topics are geared toward the average American. An American that gets his or her news from the Internet or from the morning news. Not from a newspaper. In other words, the Argus is searching for an audience that is tuned out to words on paper.”

I appreciate the fact that Mr. Vilhauer is an avid reader. His blog, after all, is about books. I applaud his commitment to print. But to suggest a newspaper should try and serve some sort of narrow sliver of print-reading literati in Sioux Falls, well, that’s about as short sighted as you can get.

Here’s the thing. I’m 28. I don’t respect the Argus Leader. But I do respect the Star Tribune. I do respect the New York Times. Many do not. My generation is the future of newspaper readership, and my generation is looking farther out than the Sioux Falls area. We’re on the move. For the most part, we’re leaving Sioux Falls. If we decide to stay, we stay knowing that Sioux Falls is becoming a major metropolitan area. We expect a newspaper that mirrors that. We’ll get our news online instead, thanks, and we’ll continue to ignore the Argus Leader.

I backed the Argus for a long time. It was the local newspaper, after all. And I feel an affinity toward the printed word. I’m an anomaly, I’d say. With that in mind, what happens when even a strong supporter of the newspaper doesn’t like the changes that are made?

So to go back to the beginning – why am I annoyed with the Argus? Why do I consider it a second class newspaper? I don’t like the change. I’m sure some do. Most that I’ve talked to don’t – a group that spans a wide range of people, from business owners to people in the advertising industry to the average subscriber.

Did we change the newspaper? Yes we did, to respond to the times, to make it more relevant to people’s lives. We’re not perfect and we’ve got a long way to go but we’re trying to stay relevent in today’s world. The reason major metropolitan daily newspapers are suffering is because they’ve grown out of touch with the daily ebb and flow of the lives of their readers, not because they weren’t printing enough wire stories about discontent in the European Union.

And this is what I meant, I guess. The Argus has grown out of touch. They are trying to gain back the people who feel disconnected, who want more local news, etc. I’m probably expecting too much from a local newspaper. In fact, I know I am. I want a paper filled with worldly views, some opinion, a Style section that I care about and a good number of crossword puzzles. I can’t get that from the Argus, just like I shouldn’t expect a large number of national news articles from the Jackson Hole Daily.

I’m young. I’ve changed my career twice, finally settling into a career where I write for an advertising agency. I’ve written for the Argus, once – a sports page stringer for one assignment. I apparently wasn’t cut out for it. I’ve studied the industry. I once aspired to be a journalist. I realized I don’t have the backbone to do it. But everyone – everyone – can be a critic. That’s what the forum of public discourse is about.

I’m tired of the Argus. I’m tired of opinion pages that are filled with pretentious, self-righteous ramblings by people who seem to be on the defensive more than anything. I’m tired of the writing, which is getting worse and worse. I hate that Fox Trot is no longer a daily comic (sorry — that’s not the Argus‘ fault.) I’ll get ripped for that if any of the Argus staff reads this. I’ll never be asked for an opinion. Oh well. Who knows? Maybe they’ll put me in the Voices section. That would be cool.

I do, however, appreciate its journalistic integrity. I thank Lalley for championing my right to tear his argument apart, and I respect Lalley’s opinion, if only because he’s defending his mothership – the ideals he and his fellow journalists have set up. I’m quite flattered that my words caused enough of an uproar. I feel they’re well-founded. Lalley feels they’re completely wrong and stupid. Tomato, to-mah-toe.

It’s just that I feel a newspaper that claims to be as wide reaching as the Argus has a duty to inform. Freedom of the press means more than banging against authority. It means filling in the full picture of the world’s events. As a reader and subscriber, I imagine the Argus would like to know my opinion – that I expect a little more from my newspaper.

Sometimes change is good. But not always.

Thanks, Epp, for starting something. Jerk. Now the Argus Leader hates me. I’ll find shards of broken glass in my newspaper tomorrow morning.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 16th, 2007