EDITORS VOICE: Print is dead; the Voice lives

EDITORS VOICE • BY BILL BROWN, MANAGING EDITOR

We were surprised to hear the Takoma Voice mentioned by the city council at their June 1 meeting.

What surprised us were the misconceptions and inaccuracies.

The Voice was mentioned in a discussion about adding more news articles to the city newsletter because the council is under the impression there are no local news sources.

“There isn’t really a local newspaper, so when there are problems with the city government that the community should know about . . .  right now there is no good mechanism for doing that, no media for doing that,” said a councilmember whose name we need not mention.

Bless her

Virginia Myers, the city newsletter editor, corrected this statement, bless her heart. She said, “Well, no print mechanism. The Takoma Voice is still out there, but not in print.”

The reply from the dais was “And they haven’t exactly been a newspaper, either. They’re very good at what they do, but, it’s more . . .  showcasing the various events around town, and things like that.”

A moment later another council member said that in 1992, when the resolution establishing city newsletter editorial guidelines was passed, “There was the Voice, that was a newspaper that came out pretty regularly, fairly thick, lots of stuff in it, and you also had the Gazette. . . .”

“Those used to be useful sources of information. The Voice has never been thought of, even when it was in print, as any version of the New York Times, printing all the news that’s available, but at least it was something. So we have this vacuum.”

The city council, by the way, has never been thought of as any version of the US Senate, but at least it is something.

Councilmembers, we wish to correct the above inaccuracies. There is no vacuum. The Takoma Park Silver Spring Voice is very much alive and publishing – online.

And if anyone thinks we don’t publish stories the community should know about, read this week’s story about the arrest of 73 year old Karin Anderson, which gives readers the conflicting accounts of both the police and Anderson. That’s not a story the city newsletter would publish, nor has any other media covered it.

Print is dead

Print is dead. Even the big papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are dying, but migrating and living on, as the Voice did, online.

It’s true that the Great Recession clobbered us and we were hanging by a thread three years ago, as were all news publications – many of which did die. But, The Voice is slowly rebuilding.

Even with a minimal staff and small cadre of volunteers and interns we cover much more than events. Though the last we checked every news outlet on the planet thinks events ARE news. Takoma Porch isn’t news? The Takoma Folk Festival? The House and Garden Tour? The Takoma Park Independence Day Parade isn’t news? You just alienated most of your constituents, councilmember.

We cover almost every Takoma Park city council meeting, for example. No other publication does that, except the city newsletter which only reports the votes.

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More news faster

In the month of May the Voice published 22 articles. We covered: the DC Ward 4 election results, the sale of the Takoma Theater, the city’s tax hike,  the county school board choice for superintendent and the city budget process. We had an opinion piece on county school policy, an article about the pending licensing of off-sales beer and wine within city limits, a piece about a change in the Maryland driver’s license test, two articles on city history, and coverage and analysis of city council meetings. There were also gardening and advice columns and a cartoon.

That compares favorably with the number and types of articles printed in some typical print editions we pulled out of our files: January 1988: 11 articles, December 2001: 27 articles, December 2011: 21 articles.

Readers had to wait a month for a print edition. Now they can read articles posted on the day they were written – around five or six a week.

Some people can’t deal with change. Some simply prefer print newspapers. Some people have no internet access. We wish we could be in print for those people, but, print is a luxury only those with deep corporate pockets – or deep taxpayer’s pockets – can afford.

We at the Voice have to earn our money through advertising, which is a harder sell these days when businesses, especially new businesses, use free social media instead. Even as the economy rebuilds, there are fewer advertising dollars being spent. That’s one reason why we’re still relying on volunteers, interns and people who think independent journalism is vital to the community and worth a little sacrifice (up to a point.)

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Home&garden-CThe Takoma Voice/Silver Spring Home & Garden Guide lists local merchants who support your locally-owned, independent news publication. Please support them!

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Digital is green

And please don’t overlook printing’s environmental impact: tree cutting, paper processing, printing, transportation, distribution and thousands of plastic bag wrappers – all add up to a big fat carbon footprint.

We do not lack for readers. From May 2014 to May 2015 we had nearly 150,000 “pageviews” – or “hits.” And the numbers are steadily rising.

We send out a weekly e-newsletter which has a steadily growing list of subscribers. You can find a link to subscribe – for free – on our website. We have a local business directory where you can find local businesses such as architects, health practitioners, real estate agents, bike shops, plumbers and so forth. We have seasonal local shopping guides. We have always been strong advocates for local independent businesses. Because we ARE one.

We also have t-shirts and cartoon prints for sale for Friends of the Voice.

We know from experience that council members don’t like it when the Voice gets facts wrong about the council – the Voice is happy to correct its occasional errors.

We hope the council will do the same for the Voice.


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About the Author

Bill Brown

Bill Brown moved to Takoma Park in 1982. He has been involved in journalism in one way or another since he co-published an underground high-school newspaper in the late 1960s.