What’s ‘New’ About a New Newspaper?

I find myself caring less and less about the prospects for physical newspapers. And that’s why I’m feeling a little underwhelmed about a new development in the world of South Jersey media.

On November 1, three South Jersey newspapers—the Gloucester County Times, News of Cumberland County, and Today’s Sunbeam in Salem County—will merge into the newly minted South Jersey Times. According to an announcement made last week by South Jersey Media Group, the 30,000-circulation daily paper will split its focus in two, with advertising and news targeted to the southern and northern sections of the region.

Quoted last week in the Gloucester County Times, South Jersey Media Group general manager Joseph P. Owens said the merger is “a great opportunity to take the best of all three papers and provide an even better local news and advertising source to the entire region.”

Yeah…I guess. But if you’ll pardon the cliché, this feels like rearranging those pesky Titanic deck chairs again.

I have nothing against newspapers. Heck, my first job out of college was writing for The Central Record, my hometown weekly. Daily news is an extremely important enterprise, and local journalism is essential for any community.

But publishers still don’t seem to get it. Fewer and fewer people—especially those 35 and under—are consuming their daily media by way of ink printed on dead trees. Over the last four years I’ve been teaching at Rowan University I can count on one finger how many times I’ve seen a student casually flipping through a printed newspaper.

Compared to how often I see fingers furiously swiping and typing on smart phones, tablets, and keyboards, the ratio is skewed to absurdity.

This is why I found it particularly surprising that the South Jersey Media Group announcement wasn’t more focused on what this merger means for the new entity’s web presence (aside from it coming under the NJ.com umbrella). The arrival of South Jersey Times is perfect for a radical new approach to local online media, but I’m not getting the impression that this has been given much thought.

Newspapers—actual printed pieces of paper—will eventually become extinct outside the realm of novelty. And that’s fine. What must survive, however, are the words and those who write them, and the best way to do that is to start embracing digital media consumption with reckless abandon. Yes, I still want local South Jersey news. Big time! But I want to start consuming it in ways that feel cutting edge, not catching up with the times.

Here, take a moment to peruse the winners of the Online News Association’s 2012 Online Journalism Awards. There are some incredibly intriguing things happening out there on the web, and I hope some of it will eventual originate from my backyard.

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