I had been the scheduled guest today on “IMportant People” (sic), an online collaboration between students in a course taught by a colleague and The Buffalo News on Buffalo.com. “IMportant People,” according to a house ad in today’s News, is “a weekly lunch hour, live-chat interview series featuring some of Buffalo’s best and brightest …” Yep, I had been scheduled to appear today.
My colleague told The News that his class had scheduled a media critic from Scholars and Rogues as a guest. He invited The News to send a representative to join in as a co-guest. It would have been a wonderful opportunity for The News — and me — to talk about western New York’s largest newspaper in the context of the larger turmoil surrounding the industry. But The News yanked the microphone, er, the keyboard, out of my hands.
The News was offered a guest and a topic in its own online platform that it could use to talk about its own efforts to meet the challenges of the current industry climate. It could respond directly to readers online — which is precisely what the newspaper industry has to do to survive. The appearance of a well-spoken representative (and me) in its own venue would have been its public relations folks’ wet dream.
But The News declined the offer. And nixed the topic —and me. I don’t know why; I didn’t ask my colleague. The program belongs to The News; it can do what it damn well pleases.
But it missed an opportunity to speak directly to the online audience and answer this question: “How is the newspaper going to ensure that it can continue to meet the needs of its readers?”
That The News not only refused to talk about this but also waved the students away from the entire topic depicts the newspaper as fearing circumstances in which it might face criticism. Why wouldn’t it want to let its readers know how it was coping with the industry crisis? Why would it want to pretend like nothing’s amiss? Why doesn’t it want the lens of public scrutiny turned on itself?
It seems the paper is behaving in exactly the way that, if it was a public official, the paper itself would crucify him or her for. If a newspaper’s representative was shut out of a public forum by someone else, it would scream “foul” in a too-long editorial about freedom of the press, etc.
Perhaps The News was concerned about what I might say to its online audience.
Too bad. I would have said this:
I’m proud of how The News has reacted to declining circulation and revenue. Its Internet operation is done well. It has resisted pulling reporter Jerry Zremski from his Washington, D.C., post, allowing News readers unique insights into politics with a western New York context. I like how The News continues to support exceptional, veteran reporters like Bob McCarthy, Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel. I like how it has freed Steve Watson to report more on communications and the Internet.
The News has been a better newspaper in the past. But it remains, still, a good one. I’m willing to pay 75 cents for a newsstand copy before heading off for a diner breakfast.
And today, The News’ online audience will not read that in an online chat. They’ll have to come here, to Scholars and Rogues, to read it.