Tuesday, December 30, 2008

World-Herald dumps western Nebraska

Well, at least western Nebraska still can get Husker games on the radio. At least until the radio industry finishes imploding, anyway.

But they'll have to wait a day or two for the Omaha World-Herald's wall-to-wall coverage of everybody's all-Americans.

THAT'S BECAUSE the state's largest newspaper has decided them folks up in the Sandhills kin jes' go on ahead and become part of Wyoming, as has been threatened by some from time to time. In a state where folks past Grand Island have felt less and less connected to their more-numerous eastern Nebraska brethren, they are just about to have one less thing in common -- their formerly statewide newspaper:

Effective Feb. 2, The World-Herald is changing the way it delivers the news and provides advertising services across the state of Nebraska.

The newspaper will end its Midlands edition, which is distributed across much of the western half of the state. Instead of providing same-day printed newspaper delivery to that part of the state, The World-Herald will provide subscriptions to a replica electronic edition (e-Edition) for each day's paper. It also will offer delivery of the paper by U.S. mail.

In a significant related move, The World-Herald will expand distribution of its Nebraska edition, pushing delivery of this edition as far west as the Kearney and Holdrege areas. The Nebraska edition goes to press nearly five hours later than the Midlands edition that these areas currently receive, providing more up-to-date news.

The World-Herald News Service, created last year, makes available all World-Herald content to its family of daily and weekly papers across the state. Over the past two decades, The World-Herald has ensured quality news and advertising services throughout Nebraska by acquiring and improving newspapers and their related Web sites in Scottsbluff, North Platte, Kearney, Grand Island and York, as well as 11 weekly newspapers. The Norfolk Daily News also participates in the World-Herald News Service.

Four Iowa daily papers and 12 nondaily papers owned by The World-Herald also are part of the World-Herald News Service.

Omaha.com also provides World-Herald content 24/7 online and by mobile phone.
AHEM. Will the World-Herald Co. be vastly expanding the newshole of the North Platte Telegraph and Scottsbluff Star-Herald so they might somehow shoehorn in all that World-Herald News Service wonderfulness each day?

And what about all the World-Herald's coverage of Husker football on Sundays? Exactly how many of the Telegraph's or Star-Herald's Sunday sports sections could be fit into the World-Herald's college-football section?

Listen, I realize the newspaper industry is in for drastic changes, and that print editions will be less and less of the equation from here on out. What offends me is the newspaper peeing down western Nebraska readers' legs, then telling them it's a beneficial rain.

What we are talking here is a diminution of service to an overwhelmingly rural area of the state. What we also are talking here, in the socio-political sphere, is an unintended but not-so-subtle message to those folks that they do not matter in the grand scheme of Nebraska.

I UNDERSTAND the economic reasoning behind the World-Herald's move. What I don't understand is how the paper is allowing its brand to be diminished by so blatantly throwing in the towel and leaving so much of the state unserved by anything but the smallest of small-town newspapers.

The newspaper crisis has been building since the birth of the World Wide Web, and now the World-Herald reacts? Worse, the long-delayed reaction isn't a proactive one but, instead, comes in the form of a barely organized retreat.

And it's outstate World-Herald subscribers and single-copy buyers who've been left bleeding on the battlefield.

So now the paper's soon-to-be-erstwhile readers are expected to subscribe to the "e-Edition" available on the paper's woeful, truncated website? Good luck with that one, guys. Really, the "e-Edition" should be a joy to read in areas where broadband Internet service isn't nearly so ubiquitous as in the big city.

It seems to me many of the World-Herald's cost-saving objectives could have been met by either having its outstate editions printed in Grand Island, North Platte and Scottsbluff, then distributed from those hubs.

OR, BETTER YET, why not expand the circulation areas of those World-Herald Co. newspapers somewhat, and then offer an outstate edition of the World-Herald as a wrap-around to them, while raising the cover price of the papers, say, a dime? Would it really have been impossible -- and economically unfeasible -- to achieve cost savings while enhancing value to the customer?

Even if you are retrenching somewhat, isn't it always better to do it in a way that plausibly can be spun as a plus for your readership while positioning you as an industry innovator? Wouldn't it be smart journalism to add state- and national-coverage value to three of your western Nebraska publications while freeing up space in -- and the staff of -- those papers for more, and more thorough, regional and local coverage?

What the newspaper industry needs today is imagination and innovation. What it gets is slapdash haphazardry and sheer panic.

NEWSPAPERS LIKE the Omaha World-Herald could be intelligently organizing a graceful retreat from the business of publishing dead-tree newspapers and an entry into the world of multimedia news dissemination. A measured, thoughtful transition would give editors and publishers time to develop a game plan.

It also would give areas like western Nebraska time to more completely integrate into the broadband world so that no reader -- no citizen -- is left behind.

The World-Herald could have done that. Could have.

As in "coulda, woulda . . . shoulda."

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