Tommy Wilson: Papers that keep on giving

By Tommy Wilson

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There's a time and place for unplugging from devices - at least in the morning.
There's a time and place for unplugging from devices - at least in the morning.

Unlike the flat screen of a thin iPhone, the contents of a newspaper - once the fish and chips have been eaten off it, can be shared time and time again. In fact, they say the shelf life of a newspaper post fish and chips can be read up to five more times per issue.

For me as a columnist it is encouraging to know that my opinion - like it or not - has the capacity to catch the karu of 100,000 readers.

There has been a lot of korero of late about the demise of the newspaper as we know it, and how it will be swallowed up by the digital demographics of those who get their news from a tiny screen on a phone or its bigger brother, the laptop.

For me, one of my luxuries in life is breakfast with a broadsheet newspaper. Page by page of prose and piece by piece of parakuihi (brekkie) kai I devour the contents of my local rag or weekend paper as it soothes my quest for quiet.

It is true that lunch is now shared with my laptop and tea with my television, like it is for many of us as we search for those time saving shortcuts that the computer and its cordless cousins promised us.

But the reality is we have gone faster and faster with far less spare time for kai and quality korero and, just like a toilet roll, the end of this short life gets closer and quicker, so for me breakfast with my broadsheet is my safety valve for slowing down.

So will the newspaper keep getting smaller as it has already from broadsheet to tabloid? Will our local rag disappear completely and if so what will we wrap our fish and chips up in?

As a writer with almost a million published words under the belt, I think the thirst for taking that stroll to the letterbox or corner dairy for the daily newspaper will be around a lot longer than the digital doomsday prophecies are predicting.

Like all things, be it health or housing or happiness from having more time to share with those we love, there will be a rejigging or reconfiguration of news and the papers that carry the stories we are wanting to share with our breakfast. The most promising potential for papers to reverse the shrinking readership trend is to start telling more local interest stories, a recipe I have been cooking up with backyard books for almost a quarter of a century and the readership hasn't dwindled - thus far!

I remember seeing a brilliant publication on the streets of Johannesburg put out by the homeless called Street Talk. The colourful content, all written by coloureds who were homeless, was sold on street corners for about 50 cents. It was rich in content and, although it never made those standing on the street corners selling it rich, it certainly attracted a loyal readership and was a win-win way of sharing information about their daily lives.

Each local newspaper carries its own rich tapestry of contacts that reach out to most corners of the community, via reporters and columnists who have been loyal to their readers. For me loyalty carries a lot of mana when it comes to publishing.

Many newspapers facing downsizing or closure should be looking to their own loyal backyard for their future survival. This can be done by focusing more on profiling community champions and street stories where human interest is fast replacing what our politicians and local elected members are saying in their chambers.

Only last Tuesday I dropped in for a listen and lasted three minutes as they discussed the demise of opening the local library on a Sunday - or not - when right across the corridor, where I had come from, community leaders were meeting about the emergency homeless and housing crisis. I know what story I would have preferred to be reading with my morning porridge or late lunch post hui fish and chips paper.

Good newspapers are like good bookshops: there will always be a loyal following of readers. In Rotorua we have the brilliant MacLeod's bookshop that has been around almost as long as the written word and over here in Tauranga we have Books a Plenty that also carries a whakapapa of loyal readers.

Good newspapers will survive if they stay connected to their community. The real test will be if they are read many times over or never make it to tomorrow's fish and chips.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.

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