Free newspapers, great idea

A former Kentucky House representative, visited a History of Mass Communications class at NKU last week to talk about the media and politics.

He had the usual complaints about the news media-coverage is poor, reporters fail to put stories into proper context, the paper’s/reporter’s bias (nearly always liberal) shows in stories, etc.

These are not new complaints. They’ve been argued and debated by everyone from editors to readers to columnists.

Volumes have been written about the supposed liberal bias in the media alone. For example, a new book, which addresses this issue, “Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right” and it’s author, Ann Coulter, have received a large amount of publicity because of it’s subject matter.

Coulter contends that the “right”, or more specifically, Republicans, have been hammered by the news media because of lies the “left”, or more specifically, Democrats, have spread about them.

This may not be true. The issue is too complex to be argued here.

These complaints do exist, though, and are plaguing the news media.

Newspapers are especially hurting as their numbers decline.

One student in the Communications class made an interesting comment about why newspapers are losing readers.

She suggested that people don’t have time to sit down and read a paper every day. In effect, it’s easier to get news from other sources.

Fewer readers mean fewer advertisers, which is where newspapers make nearly all of their money. This, in turn, means they have less money to devote to production.

With fewer and fewer reporters making less and less money, and personnel in other departments stretched thin, the quality of the paper is bound to deteriorate

This may be too simple of an explanation, and maybe it is, but assume for a moment that it’s right.

If newspapers are dependent on their readers, and their readers are falling away, how can they devote resources, which are dwindling, to grow a new reader base?

They start by giving out free newspapers to college students-a group they think they have the best chance to cultivate into voracious new readers.

This is exactly what is happening on campus right now.

USA Today, through the Student Government Association, is offering free papers for students at various locations on campus. Daily editions are available of both The Kentucky Enquirer and USA Today, through Nov. 22.

This is just a trial run of the program. If the university decides to keep the program it will cost them $15,000 a year, but papers will remain free for students.

As Northerner News Editor Lori Cox put it in her story about the program, “if you’ve never developed the habit of reading the newspaper, here’s your chance.” And habit is what it is.

Newspapers are intimidating upon first glance. There’s so much information packed into the pages that it seems futile to even try to process it all. But, after a while, you learn how to read the paper and single out the information you need. It becomes something you enjoy.

You also begin to realize how much local news you miss if you pay attention solely to national news outlets.

During his conversation with students, the representative recalled a time when newspapers were an important part of the community. Citizens turned to their local papers to find out what was going on in their cities and regions. They made decisions based on this information, and changes came about because of these decisions.

Newspapers could be like this again.

Give these free newspapers a chance. Pick one up (and a Northerner too) on your way to class to read when you have a few minutes. Try to fit it into your schedule and you’ll be glad you did.

Encourage SGA, and NKU administrators involved with the project, to try to keep the program going. Even though education is undergoing tough economic times in Kentucky, and $15,000 may mean a lot more than it did a few years ago, this program is important, not only for newspapers, but for the community, which will only benefit from informed citizens.