Elizabeth Cook: Welcome to the 24-hour newspaper

  • Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2014 10:04 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, February 23, 2014 10:13 a.m.

The tug-of-war between old media and new media jumps off the page in Robin Sloan’s bestseller, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.”

Narrator Clay Jannon has traveled to New York on a mission involving ancient books and cutting-edge technology. With him is Kat, a young techie who works at Google.

Clay observes:

“Kat bought a New York Times but couldn’t figure out how to operate it, so now she’s fiddling with her phone.”

Let that sink in for a moment. She couldn’t figure out how to “operate” a newspaper.

I smirked at Kat before realizing I’ve done the reverse countless times, struggling with new technology only to set it aside and pick up the tried and true.

Either way, Kat and I have a lot in common. Whether passing time on a park bench or researching a crucial subject, we’re reaching outside ourselves in pursuit of information. And that’s something we all will keep doing year after year, regardless of technology.

Between the time the sale of the Salisbury Post was announced a few months ago and the transaction was completed last week, friends and acquaintances have approached me with concerned expressions. “Are you OK? Will the Post be OK?”

I know what they’re really asking. Yes, I assure them; so far I still have a job as editor of the Post, and the Post is still a daily newspaper bringing you news seven days a week.

But the proviso that came with the Post’s sale in 1997 goes with this one, too. Thanks to technology and shifting reader habits, change happens regardless of who owns the newspaper. We’ll all be affected in some way as the Post’s business continues to expand from a newspaper to websites, mobile apps, social media and niche publications, and we stretch to reach readers in new and different ways.

The best assurance we can give readers right now is the heritage of the paper’s new majority owners, Carpenter Newsmedia LLC and Boone Newspapers. They’ve focused on newspapers for a long time and are firmly committed to staying in this business.

One of the owners, Todd H. Carpenter of Natchez, Miss., addressed that issue in a Q&A with Post reporter Emily Ford. 

“Local news and information will always be a vital part of community discourse,” he said, “and the process of daily production of true community journalism is core to that exchange.

“From serving that need comes a firm base from which to do business, to build a loyal audience, through print, online and mobile, that, in turn, passes the value test for advertising customers.” 

The snow storm that closed schools and halted business across the South a couple of weeks ago also delayed the Post’s sale a few days. But well before the deal was final, we’d started looking at the Post through new eyes in the news department.

You may have noticed some small changes in recent weeks.

• We’re publishing public records like deeds, wedding licenses and new corporations again, and plan to get more.

• You’ll find more roundups of briefs on several pages — Second Front, Faith, Food — to give readers information in quick, easy-to-read fashion.

• On the last Monday of each month, or as close as news allows, we’ll publish a community calendar for the next month. Send items to towncrier@salisburypost.com.

• When a page opened up in Saturday’s paper, we allocated the space to the Faith section because of our readers’ great interest in religion and values.

This list should grow, but we need your help as we evaluate all aspects of the news and information we deliver. Tell us what you want, what information you need as a resident of this area. Please send your ideas, questions and criticisms to me at ecook@salisburypost.com.

I’ve been holding on to one reader suggestion for over a year — a page of world news with a map pointing out where each story took place. Someday I’d like to create a page like that for state and local news. It’s on my to-do list.

Back to “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” My friends and I had a lively discussion about the novel at book club last week. By coincidence, the book is also the choice for this year’s 411 Community Read Project — 4 counties acting as 1 community, all reading 1 book.

The Community Read and Games project involves libraries, parks and other partners in Cabarrus, Davidson, Rowan and Stanly counties.

Confession: Instead of reading the whole book, I listened to most of it as an audiobook. I read reviews online. On Facebook and Twitter, I shared the quote about Kat failing to “operate” a copy of the New York Times. That seems fitting for “an old school mystery” set in high-tech San Francisco, as one reviewer described it.

Likewise, Post subscribers read the paper in the morning, check our website for updates throughout the day, follow staff members’ posts on Facebook and Twitter. And, when they’re away from their desks, they check the mobile “SP” on their phones. The Post is a 24-hour news organization — the right paper exactly, at exactly the right time.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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