Internet leads to huge changes even at small-town newspapers
By Jacob Sorensen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Patrick Ethridge didn’t always want to be an editor. He grew up dreaming of being a veterinarian because he loved animals, especially dogs. Instead, he wound up at newspapers. Since late 2008, Ethridge is the editor for the Beatrice Daily Sun. He comes to Beatrice from the Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune.
In an interview, he talked about how journalism has changed over the years.
Q: You’ve been in journalism for quite some time, Patrick. In the past 10 years, what’s the biggest thing that’s changed?
A: Oh, wow, that’s a really good question with many different answers. I’ve been at quite a few different places over time, and it is unbelievable to see what things we are capable of doing now. Ten years ago I was barely out of college, and we were still stuck in the days of dial-up connection to the Internet. Heck, the Internet was nowhere near as popular as it is now. I look around and see blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, all sorts of social media. It’s unreal to see these new ways to produce news, and it really takes our business a notch up.
Q: Talk a little bit more about what there was in the past besides the print edition of a newspaper.
A: As I mentioned, in today’s age we have things like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Back in 2001, you rarely had a website for your newspaper. There were essentially no blogs, no Twitter, no Facebook, and another big thing is the emergence of mobile phones. Cellphones and smart phones have turned newsgathering into a whole different world, heck, a whole different galaxy than what people ever thought imaginable. Now people can blog and ‘tweet’ on their phones and Internet. It’s just a whole different world.
Q: Do you use social media for the Daily Sun? How so?
A: Twitter and Facebook have become very important for getting news out to people. We like to mix it up on the sites. Many people use Twitter for personal thoughts and opinions or for professional use, such as linking to stories. We like to do a happy medium. I require all my staff members to use Twitter for both personal accounts and the Daily Sun account. They can post their own stories on their own feed, but we prefer to get feedback on the Daily Sun feed by asking questions and posting links to important articles written by the writers themselves. It’s become increasingly important.
Q: I think another thing that has changed over the years is websites for newspapers. Tell me a little bit about yours, and how it is utilized.
A: Our website is just our paper’s name, so it is www.beatricedailysun.com. We have someone in charge of uploading stories and content to the site, and we do link the site to our Facebook and Twitter pages. It is in the same format as many sites now, and looks just like the Journal Star from Lincoln (which is owned by the same company). We get numerous comments on plenty of stories, so we feel like it gets used fairly well. We post breaking news on the site, so those who have Internet and want to know the ‘here and now’ can be caught up. Our stories are posted on there before the paper comes out.
Q: Patrick, I noticed about a year ago that the Beatrice paper changed from afternoon delivery to morning delivery. Does the development of social media have anything to do with that?
A: Oh, it is almost 100 percent for that reason that we did it. People were getting old news when we delivered the paper so late. You know, in this day and age, as we mentioned with Twitter, people get breaking news via Internet feeds, television and radio. It wasn’t beneficial to us or our readers to have news from the day before so late on the next day. Since many already knew the news, we had to keep up and make sure our readership was still strong, so we made the change to morning, and I think the community is very appreciative that we did that.
Q: Most of your staff writers are fresh out of college. How does having younger writers help the ability to develop social media compared to older writers?
A: It’s pretty obvious that our young writers are more accustomed to this stuff because they used it in college to advertise what they had to offer. Older writers aren’t as accustomed to it yet because they didn’t use it while they were in the same position. They had their notepad, their computer and their keyboard, and that’s what they needed. It’s been tough for some of the older writers in the world to adapt to all this, but I think they are starting to get the hang of it. It’s definitely here to stay.
Q: What do you envision in the future for newspapers in the next 20 years?
A: Well, newspapers will definitely last for a while. There are simply too many older people and older generations that still rely on them and give strong readership. But if you’re talking 20, 30 years down the road, I honestly don’t know. People want news right now and are so impatient and needy that newspapers very well might be non-existent in the future, which is a frightening thought for those going into the field of profession. There will most certainly be jobs available for Web writing and social media control, but ultimately newsgathering will be an online source, which is unbelievable when looking at where we were 10 years ago.
Q: What advice would you give to those who are considering going into the field of journalism?
A: In all honesty, you need to do as much as possible and get your feet wet in as many different journalistic things as possible. Bug newspapers to get an internship, freelance for a website or newspaper, continually ‘tweet’ or advertise your stuff online. It’s a competitive world for journalists and it’s not going to stop being that way anytime soon, especially with the chance of newspapers dying in the future. You have to be tough and persistent, but you have to be willing to accept advice and criticism in order to get where you want to be. If you don’t have a dream job or a place where you know you’d like to work, find one now. It’ll make you work that much harder to get there and know what you need to do to accomplish the dream.