2 p.m. Jan. 10----
Maybe I'm on a coffee jag. I am at Sunrise Cafe, 2012 W. Chicago Ave. and look up from my veggie omelette. The restaurant is full on a Saturday morning. More than half of the people in the working class Ukrainian Village eatery are reading a newspaper. These are great times to be a news junkie in Chicago. We have a psychotic governor, a President-elect who calls the city his home and it snows every other day.
Who wouldn't want to read a newspaper?
People are reading more than ever. Information is more accessible and immediate. Newspapers sell when there is big news. I am cautiously guarded optimistic about my future if editors and publishers learn to think outside the box. What do we have to lose? [Check out my Sept. 25, 2008 archived blog post from Loyola University in Chicago.]
I cried on the shoulder of Joe Urschel, executive director of the Newseum in Washington, D.C. [great website: newseum.org.].........
...He's a native of Park Forest, Ill. and was a proof reader, editor and feature writer at the Star-Tribune newspapers in southwest suburban Chicago. That chain was since acquired by the Sun-Times.
"The day after the election we had an interesting phenomenon at the museum," said Urschel, a 1974 Graduate of the University of Illinois. "We post about 120 front pages from around the world every day and put about 80 of them in front of our building. That day they were all about Obama's election. Thousands of people came down to look at the papers. They had their picture taken next to the display. They were e-mailing pictures to friends. It was crazy. All the newspapers in downtown Washington were sold out by 9 a.m."
The Obama election issue was the best-selling newspaper in Sun-Times history, moving more than 700,000 copies.
"That says people do love newspapers," Urschel said. "They have a historical weight that internet sites don't have. You're not going to download the home page of your favorite website, print it out and save it. You're going to buy a newspaper and save it. That also says something about people's emotional attachment to a newspaper in print. I'm very bullish on the news business.
"But with the newspaper business, I don't have a crystal ball of what's going to go on. Its not the news side that's hurting in the news business. Its the advertising side. Craigslist and others have pilfered all the classified advertising. People are shopping directly on line. That important income stream has been taken away from newspapers. Until the newspaper business can change its economic model it is going to be hurting. Historically it is probably at its worst economic straits. But businesses do turn around."
Urschel, 56, reads newspapers on print and on line. He has hopes the next generation can "re-convert" interest to words on paper. Last month I spoke to a group of sixth, seventh and eighth graders during a career day at the wonderful Inter-American Elementary Magnet School on the north side of Chicago. I always ask students how many of them read newspapers. A little more than 40 per cent of each class (about 25 kids) raised their hands. They told me they liked the comics, advice columnists and sports. Newspapers should not underestimate the chance to engage these readers.
After leaving the Chicago area, Urschel worked at the Detroit Free Press before moving to Virginia to work on the launch of USA Today. In a 14-year career at the paper he was Managing Editor/Life Section and Managing/Editor Special Projects. He was also supervising producer of the syndicated USA on TV television show. He was named Newseum executive director in June, 1997 just two months after the original Newseum opened in Arlington, Va. The current Newseum debuted in April, 2008 at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C.
Just last month, USA Today editor Ken Paulson left the newspaper to become president and COO of the Newseum and Freedom Forum. The Freedom Forum, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. The foundation focuses on the Newseum, the First Amendment and newsroom diversity.
Should I be worried about people leaving newspapers to work at the Newseum?
Urschel was at a temporary loss of words.
"We can't employ everybody who is leaving newspapers," he finally answered. "Ken actually used to work for the Freedom Forum. He was the head of the First Amendment Center. I don't think we can rescue the newspaper business. I hope the newspaper business can do that on its own. Its a daunting task."