To be a human being is to live with change. To fight against necessary change not only delays the inevitable, but also handicaps an organization’s prospects for surviving change.
No industry recognizes this more than the mass media, particularly the news. When I entered the full-time workforce at an afternoon newspaper in Jacksonville, Florida, it was much simpler. The news sources were two dailies and three TV stations. Now, everyone with a smartphone is both a potential news source and a news information consumer.
Some things endure: citizens’ need for accurate news information, for one. Even as opportunists have recognized how to subvert that hunger, for personal gain and corporate profit, a need remains for sources that will fight the good fight.
The Auburn Plainsman has established itself as a reliable, committed news operation for decades. That has remained steadfast, even as the ground beneath it has shifted. The decline of print and the emergence of online have forced change in how it delivers its news.
Now, to continue to fulfill its mission, the newspaper faces a difficult decision: ending a print version that reflects a centuries-old tradition of news transmission. It is a decision founded not in what the Plainsman staff wants to do, but what it must do.
On-campus print distribution had declined, even before COVID-19 emptied the campus. Will it return, along with the students? Past trends tell us that it would return at a lower level than earlier. Such data informs difficult decisions.
I will confess. I subscribe to several newspapers, but I read all of them online, not in print, whether it’s the New York Times or the Opelika-Auburn News. I would pick up a Plainsman copy on my way to the office on Thursdays, but if it is no longer there, I will become an online reader there, too.
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And I will still support The Plainsman. I have decided that my pre-retirement giving will help to fund an endowment to ensure the paper’s survival. Until that endowment is finalized, we can all give to The Plainsman at their website.
The project will be called The Plainsman Editors Endowment, honoring the commitment of individuals who have led their staffs to produce an excellent, aggressive and yet fair news source. Jack West is the latest in that line, and I stand with him in making this difficult decision. It’s the right one.
John Carvalho is a 1978 graduate, a current Auburn professor and was the Plainsman Editor-in-Chief from 1977-1978.
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