We've had just over a week of the new print version of the Democrat and Chronicle, with, as promised, more content than the old D&C.
And I'm not loving it.
Change is good. Communities change, readers' interests change, style and taste change. If we had to read the newspapers that were published 100 years ago, we'd faint from boredom.
So now we have the new D&C, with 60 more pages each week. We do have more local news, but so far, a lot of it is small stories graphically blown out of proportion. And some of it is not more news; it's big photos, big ads, a big editorial floating in white space.
I do applaud the D&C for expanding state news. The trend in newspapers has been to reduce state coverage: specifically, state-government coverage. But the D&C's expanded state content has been mixed, some coming from its excellent Albany bureau, others along the line of last Wednesday's "Hike the Appalachian Trail."
Some readers are enthusiastic about the USA Today insert, the short-news master that now provides all of the D&C's national and international news. This is certainly not the only newspaper that leans heavily on short articles that appeal to people with short attention spans. But that brings me to my real concern about the new D&C.
A key role of a newspaper – any newspaper – is to help readers learn enough about important issues that they can be good citizens. We do that not only by telling readers what happened yesterday but also why: by providing context and analysis. The D&C is giving us a few articles long enough to provide both, but I had hoped the expansion would provide more.
I'm also troubled by the increased reliance on Gannett writers for national and international news. With a few exceptions over the past week, every news article in every section except Sports was written by a local, state, or national Gannett journalist. That means that only Gannett journalists scour the world for our news, and only Gannett journalists decide which news sources should be interviewed, and on which topics.
Add to that the dramatic decrease in the number of syndicated opinion columns, and we get a narrower and – thanks to the Gannett style – blander view of the world.
The D&C is certainly doing some positive things. Despite its cutbacks, it has a strong local and state news staff, and the D&C seems to be stepping up its investigative efforts. But on the whole, there doesn't seem to be a lot more substance in the "more" that we're getting.
This is a time when the public needs more substance, not less. We live in an increasingly complicated world. To be well-informed citizens, we need information, lots of it. And if newspapers don't provide it, who will?
Readers can, of course, turn to other sources. That would be fine if readers were turning to outlets that provided substantive information. But more and more people – liberals as well as conservatives – are turning to online and television outlets that simply reinforce their own prejudices. And increasingly, the D&C seems to tailor its content to what readership surveys say the average person wants, as opposed to what people need.
In journalism circles, it's not politically correct to argue for the latter. It's considered elitist.
So call me an elitist.
I like variety in media. I know that the public enjoys reading about food drives, principals who are retiring, old buildings, and school science projects. Those are nice stories about nice people, and they help create a sense of community in a diverse region.
But newspapers also have a responsibility to be community leaders. A newspaper heavy with shallow stories about relatively insignificant events, a newspaper that aims for the lowest common denominator rather than helping readers broaden their horizons and deepen their knowledge, isn't living up to its calling.
(And by the way: What kind of newspaper do all those research scientists and technology whizzes moving to Rochester expect to find?)