On the cusp of something new requires less whining

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Posted 1/02/18 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

If you’ve read my column lately you know I’ve spent a lot of space ruminating about Facebook, changing times, and how to keep people engaged in our local newspapers.
In response to a recent column generating both criticism and kudos online -- “Local journalism at risk because of Facebook?” -- one of the later comments that came in has resonated as much as any of the others -- and they were all thought-provoking.
Someone named Michael Higgins from Florida wrote, “Instead of trying to find a place to lay the blame, concentrate on improving the product. Be a winner, not a whiner.”
The name of my column notwithstanding, I don’t like whiners either, but writing has always been my vehicle for problem-solving. My columns have always been as much of a meditation for me -- focused time trying to arrive at solutions -- than they are fully-hatched, logical arguments in favor of a particular course.
When I am lucky, these meditations do grow into courses of action that are real and tangible. It would be trite on a week like this to say I’ve made some New Year’s resolutions about operation of The Journal and Tioga Tribune, but the truth is, so many changes are happening, so fast -- both on our local as well as national scene -- as soon as I come up with one solution for how to run my business better, a new set of issues presents, and a new solution is needed.
Up until the past few weeks, I spent way more time whining about how social media and the economy are changing the way we do business than I have on finding actual solutions.
Michael Higgins’ words have become the jumping off point for some first efforts at doing something, not just whining about how things have changed.
I’ve worked at these newspapers nearly 20 years now. At the age of 54, I would be a lot more comfortable conducting business the way we always have, slowly winding toward a retirement I hope might be possible in another 15 years or so.
I would like to stamp my foot petulantly and declare, “It’s all Facebook’s fault,” that our neighbors news is less abundant, that small businesses aren’t relying as much on print media or that young people don’t care enough about local government to make an investment in keeping local journalism alive. 
All of those issues may be a part of the problem, but recognizing those dynamics is only the first step toward a solution. I have asked myself as many times as there are hours in the day, each day in recent weeks, “What do people need newspapers for?”
While the overriding answer is obvious -- “for news about their community” -- social media is taking enough of a bite out of newspapers’ role  that the model we formerly operated on may not be sustainable in the future. Throw in the economic changes of a slowed oil economy, on top of a slowed ag economy, and it’s a challenge.
Moving from whining to, hopefully, winning, we’re starting with things like our just announced @The Journal and @Tioga Tribune columns. 
In an era when people are literally their own publicists, via social media, we’re inviting them to tag us in posts they’d also like to see in the newspaper.
Years ago, visits from family, vacations, holiday celebrations, engagements and other social news would have been reported to the local correspondent, but in today’s world where we can share that kind of news with friends on social media, it might be easy to think, “Who needs it in the newspaper?”
There are two big reasons I can think of:
1. If you want there to be a permanent record of your milestone post, one that is accessible to your family and friends in the future, sharing that news with the newspaper means it will be printed and stored, probably forever.
2. While social media is great for connecting us with lots of folks we know, they don’t connect us to everyone we know, nor do Facebook’s algorithms ensure that everyone you’d like to have see your post actually will.
These columns are a small step toward trying to figure out what people want from their newspaper in the future, and what we can deliver.
Stay tuned, because more changes are coming. And if you have any ideas, I’m all ears!