A small-town, daily newspaper is special because readers feel a personal connection.
That was a prevailing sentiment I noticed among writers and editors attending an Associated Press annual meeting in Harrisburg last week. But newspapers are facing challenges.
Many said younger readers are less inclined to read a daily paper. Some said newspapers need to meld their print version with an online edition in order to stay vital in today's electronic age. Others said online newspapers need to be more like blogs.
Opinions varied, but virtually everyone agreed that traditional newspapers still are the primary, trusted source for compelling, concise journalism.
"The local news you need to know - the stuff that really matters to you and your family - won't be found on Google," said one journalist.
And that's true. You can read about the war against terrorism in virtually any news forum or blog. But what impacts your life most is local, and that's where small town dailies have a niche. When a young soldier from your town comes home wounded after an act of heroism in Iraq, your daily newspaper is the place for details. That's just the way it is.
A small town daily newspaper is the very identity of a community and a reflection of its values, struggles and achievements. It's all about the things that really matter to you. It's also the community's original and most widely accepted public forum for discussion.
Don't like the new zoning ordinance in your town? Just sit down and write a letter to the editor. Your opinion will be printed in the daily paper and be given its full weight. Did the high school band look exceptionally sharp in the holiday parade? You can express your thoughts in the daily paper, where local readers will see it and will care about what you have to say.
Another distinction of the local paper is that it's welcomed into your home by invitation. Readers have a personal relationship with their local daily. A local newspaper is like a friend or member of the family. The staff members are familiar to you. They're people you pass on the street every day, part of your community, whether they're from news, editorial, advertising, production or distribution - the local paper is staffed by your friends and neighbors. Much different from an anonymous blog.
Many of these thoughts were expressed at the Associated Press session. Most everyone agreed that people generally like to sit and relax with a cup of java when they spend time with the paper.
It's not the same on the Internet, where annoying links, pop-ups and questions such as: "Would you like to add this to Facebook?" can be intrusive.
And how about those interruptions that say: "Your desktop is cluttered. There are too many unused icons."
That kind of thing doesn't happen with the daily paper. Your local daily has everything you need to know written by people who care about you. You can take your time and look at the stories and ads in detail. Maybe even clip them and put them on your fridge.
On top of that, isn't a newspaper an energy-saving invention? You can read a newspaper without plugging it in, and it won't crash or jam when you're in the middle of a story. Plus it's no longer black and white as in the old days. It has plenty of full color. What a great way to deliver news and what a smart vehicle to use for your advertising.
Actually, newsprint was the original broadband. No wonder the newspaper has stood the test of time. It's not a fad like inline skates or Pac-Man. It's something that makes sense. The printed newspaper is a convenient, good idea.
The younger folks only need time to discover it.