The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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September 16, 2013

Journalism's golden age meets its golden opportunity

There’s something reassuring about columnist Paul Greenberg’s prophecy this week about a “new, wide-open, freer era of journalism.”

I always enjoy Greenberg’s columns, particularly the ones where he signs off as “Inky Wretch.” The 76-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner has been around long enough that indeed he probably does have ink in his veins.

And he’s not the only one who is bullish about the future of the press.

His message echoes one I’ve listened to several times in recent weeks as the sale of The Washington Post has some waxing nostalgic, while others are excited about the possibilities of what’s being referred to as “the golden opportunity.”

That’s what Bill Ostendorf, a former Providence Journal graphics and photo editor, thinks newspapers — or news services, if you will — hold in their hands right now.

Ostendorf delivers webinars for newspapers in which he debunks some long-held newsroom schools of thought, such as the idea that there’s no way that newspapers can ever be as good as they once were.

Ostendorf calls B.S. on that with reminders of boring, gray, stodgy pages.

As I listened to his brutally honest assessment, one thing really caught my interest. The one thing he thought newspapers did better once upon a time was to serve readers’ varied interests. Newspapers embraced communities of readers much like what HGTV and the Food Network do today.

Maybe we should have kept loving our readers more.

A local columnist recently wrote about newspapers and “the big news” of the day. Yet, ask 10 people what they consider the “big news,” and it’s likely, depending on age and interests, that you will receive 10 different answers.

How does today’s press even begin to speak to all those readers? By combining a top-drawer print product with unique digital products and social media and making it a whole new ballgame.

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