Nine years ago, I attended my first New York Press Association convention.
I had just joined Times Review Media Group as a reporter and had no idea what to expect. What I found was a lot of newspaper people scared of the big, bad Internet.
With putting newspapers out each week, we have no way of updating a website, folks said. This is impossible. We will all go out of business.
The next few NYPA conventions had themes like “newspapers are not dying” and “we still matter.”
It was depressing.
What we’re now seeing in this industry is that much of what was being said then has since been proven wrong.
Among the biggest misconceptions was the theory that if small community newspapers devoted a lot of their resources to web, the print side would suffer. Enterprising stories would disappear, we were told.
We’ve made it our mission in recent years to run a 24/7 daily news operation on the web, while also expanding the depth of our coverage in print.
We’ve also reorganized the reporting staff in Mattituck so that each person covers news in both the Riverhead and Southold markets. That means both papers can benefit from each reporter’s unique strengths and experience. And late last year we introduced a night shift. We believe those moves have positioned us to more easily cover breaking news while attempting to address the very real issue of reporter burnout.
This year, we were told that readers are now skimming more than ever in print and digging deeper into online news stories, the opposite of everything we were taught a decade ago.
“All web stories should be 50 words or less,” I was once told.
The problem with what we were being told then is that it didn’t give readers or reporters much credit. There is certainly more media than ever before to grab us, but we still have the attention span to absorb content we really want to read. And as long as newspapers continue to produce quality local content that enriches readers’ everyday lives, people will still read it.
The challenge for weekly newspapers is to identify the types of stories their readers want and deliver them in the way readers prefer to read.
We need to be timely, fair, accurate and modern. Most important of all, we need to adapt and innovate.
Historically, the East End’s weekly newspapers have done incredibly well in NYPA’s Better Newspaper Contest. This year was no different.
Times Review Media Group and the Press Newsgroup of Southampton were the top two chains in all New York for the second consecutive year. The Sag Harbor Express was again the top single-flag newspaper company.
Both the Stuart C. Dorman Award for Editorial Excellence and the Newspaper of the Year Award have gone to East End newspapers the past two years. The Dorman, as it’s called, has gone to a Long Island paper seven consecutive years.
All three Writer of the Year winners, three Sportswriter of the Year recipients and the Photographer of the Year work on the East End.
This year, Riverheadlocal.com joined the contest mix, entering for the first time and taking home five awards, including a Second Place Writer of the Year award for editor and co-publisher Denise Civiletti. Denise hired me in 2006, when she was co-publisher and executive editor for Times Review. She is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with and is easily the hardest working (though I don’t miss her 4 a.m. emails).
Like the aforementioned newspapers, Riverheadlocal is among the best in the country at what it does. And while all media groups have their critics, I challenge them to seek out better print publications or hyperlocal websites elsewhere. They’re few and far between.
In searching for reasons for this, you have to recognize the economic benefits of operating on the East End, the ability to attract talent from high-quality daily newspapers and colleges on the East Coast, and the deep roots our newspapers have in their communities (and the strong ones Riverheadlocal quickly grew).
Of course, there are also the benefits of collaboration and competition.
Our editors have always tried to maintain close ties to the editors and reporters in Southampton and Sag Harbor. The work they do consistently inspires us to do better and we’re fortunate to be able to share information and, in rare instances, content with them.
And while the relationship is different with the Local gang — as I suppose is natural given the direct competition — there’s no doubt their presence forces us to work harder, faster and smarter.
At our People of the Year reception in 2014, Flanders Riverside Northampton Civic Association president Vince Taldone said in his acceptance speech that having several media outlets covering issues has made his community a better place, and that he believes competition has made us produce better newspapers.
Congratulations to all our East End peers on your well-deserved awards.
The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.