Opinion Columns & Blogs

At 192 years old, The Telegraph is committed to remaining a vital part of the community. And that requires change.

McClatchy South Region Editor Tim Regan-Porter.
McClatchy South Region Editor Tim Regan-Porter. Photo courtesy of Phillip Smith

On November 1, 1826, Editor Myron Bartlet wrote in his “prospectus” inaugurating The Telegraph that it would “not only disseminate useful information, but advocate fearlessly, THE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE!” (emphasis original). The editor, he said, would be “warmly devoted to the cause of the people,” and “his constant endeavor will be to promote their interests—his highest ambition to merit their confidence.”

192 years later, The Telegraph is still working to advance the welfare and earn the confidence of this community. I am proud to work with a team of reporters, editors and others who labor tirelessly to bring our readers news and information that make a difference.

It’s no secret that doing that work is increasingly challenging. Even setting aside the country’s highly partisan atmosphere and attacks on the press from national leaders, local newspapers have been suffering from a 12-year decline in advertising revenue. Since 2006, print advertising, which accounted for 80 percent of all revenue, has declined by 70 percent industry-wide.

While The Telegraph still operates at a profit (yes, print is profitable), we operate with a smaller staff and a smaller physical paper. While that saddens me, the fundamental economics of the industry demand it.

Nonetheless, all is not doom and gloom. Ten times as many people read The Telegraph each month than ever read us during the industry’s financial height. Earlier this year, our parent company announced that digital advertising revenue surpassed print advertising revenue, making McClatchy the first among its peers to reach that milestone.

During my year away from Macon for a Stanford University fellowship, I studied industries in transition and bright spots in local news. There are local newsrooms that are not only financially viable but also doing better work than they’ve ever done, even though they are dramatically smaller.

Doing better work necessitates doing work differently. Newspapers cannot be the chroniclers of events that they used to be. They must allocate their time to that which is most important to the people and health of the community.

Figuring that out is tricky business. We cannot please everyone. Reporters and readers alike are beset with the inertia of and longing for what used to be. Nonetheless, we can use this transition as an opportunity to increase our focus on holding the powerful to account, finding compelling stories and providing information that you can use.

Over the coming weeks, readers will see a shift in crime coverage with fewer stories that don’t directly impact a large segment of the community. We are still committed to providing information that helps the community stay safe. Where there is imminent danger, we will be there reporting. When lives are taken, we will cover the tragedy. But when the public’s welfare is not enhanced by the immediate reporting of an incident, we will shift our efforts to deeper reporting. That will mean, for example, foregoing coverage of isolated robberies in favor of reporting on trends in robberies as needed.

Accusations of newspapers being “all crime” are not new, but as newsrooms have shrunk and, let’s be honest, followed where clicks led, those cries have intensified. Crime stories have represented a growing proportion of The Telegraph’s coverage due to these structural changes. When that coverage presents a distorted picture of our community without enhancing safety, it’s time for a change. Those changes will not please everyone, but we must marshal our resources.

We have, and will continue to make, mistakes. While we always strive for factual accuracy, we will miss stories and omit perspectives. No newsroom was ever omniscient or omnipresent, and a smaller staff means we will miss more. When we do miss something, we want to hear from you.

The Telegraph is a vital and essential part of this community. Remaining so requires change, and we hope you’ll support us on this journey. Local journalism is more important now than ever, and we intend to be around for another 192 years, devoted to the welfare of Middle Georgia.