Neal Rubin is a longtime columnist for The Detroit News and represents the newspaper at many public events.
I‘ve found myself talking to newspaper friends recently who compare being a journalist to being a buggy-maker in the early 1900s. The difference is that nobody in 1910 was still claiming buggies were better than cars.
Our problem isn’t that people no longer appreciate what we provide. In raw numbers, they appreciate it more than ever. I get e-mails from readers in Portugal who understand that we’re still the credible, reliable source for news about our region. We are simultaneously the neutral player, the moral authority, the friend and the crusader. I answered an e-mail today from a reader who needed a phone number I’d printed last week. The reader could have found the column online as easily as I did, and we know he had a computer. But he valued the interaction with a newspaper he has come to see as an ally.
Oddly, at the same time newspapers in Detroit have never been in more peril, they’ve just had a classic opportunity to demonstrate their worth. Without newspapers, a corrupt mayor would still be in office — and probably would have been for as long as he wanted the job. No one else was going to turn outrage into irrefutable facts. Only newspapers had the skills and resources — and, more important, the sense of purpose — to doggedly and honorably follow a difficult story to its conclusion.
We’ve never been good at selling what we do, and we’ve rarely trumpeted its importance. The fact is, we still build a good buggy, and riders still need it.
Some of the buggy-makers adapted to changing times, went into the car business and thrived. Let’s hope newspapers also manage to find their way.