Tall order: 8 yardsticks to measure newspaper's service
By Michael Lewis
As instant information proliferates, Miami Today enters its 28th year this week doing a job more vital than ever.
It's evident that our readers, advertisers, community and newsmakers rely on us even more as the clutter of miscellany multiplies.
Need is greater because other media, no matter how swift or voluminous, can't fulfill the same necessary role.
Clearly, that's not said with humility. But as other print media struggle, it's also not whistling past the newspaper graveyard.
The short reason need is growing, not declining, for this rather small weekly newspaper in an ever-expanding media world is precisely because Miami Today is not simply providing the massive verbiage that you can find electronically at your fingertips.
Any 14 year old at a computer can agglomerate vast volumes of purported news in seconds. Yet you can't find 85% or more of the news in Miami Today, much of it vital in your business and as a citizen, anywhere else but here.
Volume is not the media litmus test. A good newspaper serves eight key functions, none of which is to amass mountains of miscellany for some undifferentiated audience to pick through.
The newspaper's first function is to mirror the best of the community it serves, providing standards to emulate. That's why Miami Today's weekly profiles are labeled Achievers and Newsmakers, not Miscreants and Felons.
The second is to produce the glue that fashions a mass of humanity into that community. What you know about the bulk of persons, institutions and enterprises that comprise your world comes not from contact but from media reports. Media focus colors your judgments and informs your decisions. Most community detail we share comes from an information medium we also share.
Third is to provide nuts and bolts we need. Is the county raising taxes? Who'll run our chamber of commerce? Is a company moving here and hiring 300 people? Just as knowledge is power, lack of knowledge is lack of power to act on opportunity.
Fourth is to put facts into context. What's causing that tax rise, and what happened in past years? What's unique about that new chamber leader? How can you contact the firm moving here — and has it chosen its office site? Without context, it's just miscellaneous data.
The fifth role of a newspaper — perhaps most vital — is gatekeeper, making sure information passing through is fair, accurate, thorough and in good taste. The gatekeeper ranks news by importance: Does it justify a long story, or indeed any story, ahead of hundreds of others we could give you? Does it belong on the front page? Gatekeepers give readers perspective.
The sixth job is to be a check on entities that get tax monies or affect you. The simplest example is just to make sure that a promise made is later kept. If newspapers don't do that, nobody will. That's called investigatory journalism.
A seventh role — again, one no other medium fulfills — is influence. This includes making sure the newspaper spotlights key issues and community segments, uses opinions and editorials to lead, and offers a rock foundation of clear thought and stability, especially important in our rapidly changing region.
The eighth imperative is to act as a moral compass, focusing on what's best and having the courage to speak up if the community drifts dangerously off course.
If you can find all eight elements on your phone or computer, grab it. But you can't now and probably never will. The task uniquely fits a newspaper.
Of course, Miami Today also uses media other than print to fulfill its role. Our e-paper does all eight — but only because it relies 100% on the print Miami Today. The e-paper couldn't exist alone any more than could our miamitodaynews.com site or our video profiles or our Book of Leaders or e-book.
Granted, Miami Today doesn't serve everyone, or try to. Our 80,000 readers are a rarefied niche, ultra-high in education, understanding, power and income. But together you constitute a community that Miami Today serves as no other medium can.
It's not the medium but the message. While you may love to hold a newspaper, we can get you every bit of the same information in the same format via the e-paper — but only because the print paper remains strong.
We enter year 28 knowing that as the sands of the media world shift more and more rapidly, your need becomes greater than ever for us to fulfill our eight functions with vigor. With shared standards and aims, Miami Today's team will do precisely that.
Settle for nothing less.