>Newspapers fall behind

>The daily metropolitan print newspaper is useless for breaking news. It’s time we longtime newsies faced that fact. By the time a paper publishes the results of today’s election, it will be old news for most people. It’s simply impossible to beat the online and broadcast media. For example, I knew yesterday afternoon that Barack Obama’s grandmother had died. My father, who reads the paper every day and watches the news on TV every morning and evening, had no idea. A bigger example: When the attacks occurred on 9/11, I found out on the Internet. Then I turned on the TV for details. By the time the paper came out, every possible nuance had been discussed to death on CNN.

What does this mean for freelance writers, indeed for all newspaper writers? First, ditch that movie fantasy of the hotshot reporter writing the big scoop and becoming famous via the next day’s headlines. Second, expect dailies to depend more and more on their online outlets to get the news out. In order to compete, most papers today have web sites and blogs where they can publish breaking news. Their only challenge is to get readers to look at them instead of turning to Yahoo, Google, AOL or CNN.

However, the news still breaks in print for small towns like the one where I live. We don’t have a local TV station, the Portland stations rarely cover the coast, the few radio news reports offer very little about what’s going on, and the only local online news outlet went under a couple years ago. We truly depend on our local semi-weeklies to find out what’s happening. That and word of mouth. Last weekend, a minister mentioned that he’d been up late dealing with a suicide. Someone at church mentioned a big truck accident on the highway. I will be scouring tomorrow’s News-Times for those stories.

Community newspapers cover the local news, along with features that aren’t big enough for the major media: the woman who wrote a book about fishermen after her son died at sea, the new Mexican restaurant on the corner, the construction of a new college campus, my book-signing next weekend. Freelancers can get into these pages by being present where news happens or producing local features that will interest the readers.

Likewise, freelancers can get into the big dailies by writing for sections that are not as dependent on the news, such as living, opinion, travel, food, business, and the arts. Last Sunday an enterprising freelance writer wrote for the real estate section about the increasing number of single women buying homes in the Portland area. It was a good example of a “trend story.” Women aren’t waiting around in their rentals for Prince Charming to buy them a house anymore. The writer took time to interview home-buyers, realtors, and mortgage brokers to produce a complete and well-written article.

I’ve prattled on long enough this morning, but here’s the point. If you want to write breaking world or national news, forget about newspapers and go online. But other opportunities remain in feature sections, community newspapers, alternative weeklies, and specialized rags. Don’t quit; adapt.