Column: A few interesting tidbits about newspapering

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tim Engstrom, Pothole Prairie

Did you know shopping local helps journalism?

One question people ask me: What determines the size of the newspaper?

Some people think the size of the paper is set and then later people buy advertisements in it.

Reality is just the opposite. The more advertisements in an edition, the bigger it is. Once the

advertising department at the Tribune &8212; or most any daily newspaper, for that matter &8212; knows how many and what size ads will be in an edition, it will set the number of pages and place the ads.

Then the composing and news departments finish producing the rest of the paper.

The more ads sold, the bigger the paper. Why? Paper, ink and labor cost money.

When people shop local, that helps local businesses. They have more money for advertisements. It allows us to have a bigger paper.

To be sure, it&8217;s a two-way street. More advertising drives in more customers.

But just imagine for a moment if everyone shopped local all the time. Imagine how much stronger the newspaper, radio stations and other media would be as a result. More staff. More journalism. It&8217;s a simple cause-and-effect relationship. It&8217;s interesting to ponder.

I don&8217;t mind taking feedback from readers. That&8217;s enjoyable. But a handful are prone to whining. When that happens, I think two things:

1. I wonder where they buy their goods. What right do they have to complain about anything in our town if their clothes come from the Twin Cities? Sales taxes at the Twin Cities don&8217;t pave our streets. In just the same way, very little money spent there goes toward advertising here. To be a local, you&8217;d better shop local. I haven&8217;t bought a stitch of clothing out of town since I moved to Albert Lea.

There&8217;s a saying: &8220;You pay my heating bill. I&8217;ll pay your heating bill.&8221; We don&8217;t need to pay the heating bills of people in the Twin Cities, Mason City, Rochester, Mankato, Owatonna and Austin.

2. They must not see newspapers in towns of about the same size. Albert Lea has a good thing going with the Tribune. We&8217;re not going to be the New York Times or the StarTribune. In fact, Albert Lea area readers wouldn&8217;t want us to be. The staff at those papers are less accessible to

their readers. Jayson Blair could never have made it a month at a small paper.

I&8217;m an editor. Advertising does not influence our news decisions. You have my word on that. But to say advertising doesn&8217;t affect the news would be wrong. Influence and affect are two different things. Advertising affects how much news &8212; whether local, regional, national or world &8212; we can bring you in each edition.

There. I hope that answers that question.

Open government

I think people should subscribe to their local newspaper no matter where they live. If it&8217;s a good paper, then good. If it&8217;s a bad paper, then make suggestions.

But the reason people should subscribe no matter what is newspapers lobby local, state and federal governments for open records, open governments, open courts and First Amendment rights. We don&8217;t just do it in the newspaper, either. Papers big and small belong to trade

organizations, and they have trade lobbyists at state capitals and the nation&8217;s capital.

Do you enjoy freedom of speech? Newspapers have helped you keep that freedom. Freedom of the press? Yes. Most everyone has printed something in their lives protected by this right. Freedom of petition? Yup, newspapers have been there. Freedom of religion? That one, too. Freedom of assembly? Thank a newspaper at your club&8217;s next meeting.

Do you like being able to walk to the school offices and get a copy of the budget where your children attend school? How about witnessing the school board make decisions about your children? What about knowing who owns what land in the neighborhood you live? I could give hundreds of examples.

What about knowing who is in the jail? In some countries, when the government takes away your freedom of movement, no one gets to know. In America, it might be embarrassing to be in jail, but it&8217;s better that people know so your friends and family can get you out.

Newspapers more than any other media fight tooth and nail to keep open records open, open meetings open and even open courts open &8212; they fight for sunshine laws.

TV, Internet, music, movies, magazines, billboards and video games can&8217;t hold a candle to the local newspapers in this aspect. The New Richland Star has done more for you than Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo combined.

I&8217;ve been at state capitals and in D.C. I know. We are there fighting for you. We aren&8217;t fighting so only newspapers get these rights. We always fight so every citizen retains these rights. That distinction is near and dear to our ethics.

We don&8217;t boast about our on-the-ground fight for the First Amendment and sunshine laws, but I wish we would. Not enough people realize it. When they cancel a subscription, they cancel their support of people maintaining key rights that make America a better democracy.

(Tim Engstrom is the managing editor of the Albert Lea Tribune.)