Short-sighted?

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  August 26, 2009

One-time television reporter Andy Smith has moved to the business desk. And after last month's redesign, the business page is no more, with corporate and consumer reporting now spread throughout the local and national news sections.

Editors at newspapers across the country say their readers can get movie reviews and the latest on forensic science elsewhere. And they're right. But dropping niche coverage and de-emphasizing national and international reporting can ultimately alienate a local audience with broad interests.

"People look at the paper and say, 'That's not me,' " said Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Of course, a more cosmopolitan newspaper may be an impossibility in an era of diminished resources. And it may not even make sense in what Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University and writes the blog PressThink, calls an "unbundled" era.

For every traditional newspaper reader who wants a comprehensive broadsheet that reflects his interests, there is a next-generation consumer who is looking for specialized reports on skiing conditions and the local music scene and the elementary school down the street — the sort of hyper-local coverage that is beyond the means of a slimmed-down newspaper, but readily available on various niche web sites.

And that leaves the modern metropolitan paper in what may be an untenable position: it is too local for some and not local enough for others.

The denizens of Fountain Street are aware of this conundrum. Aware of the paper's financial woes. But most say they are proud of what the paper is doing with a smaller staff. Pleased that the ProJo is trying to adapt to the new reality, however imperfectly.

And that may the best a metro daily, circa 2009, can do.

"At least the paper isn't standing still," said one newsroom source. "If we're dying, we're going to put up a fight."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg@phx.com.

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