If you mount up on a tall horse and survey the media landscape in Wyoming today, you’ll see an unavoidable truth. The venerable old institutions of newsprint journalism are mere shadows of their former selves.
Saddled with burdensome capital costs, Wyoming’s paper & ink newspapers are surviving by trimming staff, running more ads and relying on outside wire service sources for primary reporting. They are on life support provided by mandatory public notices, advertising inserts and contract printing.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good newspaper as much as anyone, but times are a’changin’.
I have often leaned, in this column, on Sen. Rans Stoddard’s soliloquy in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that “an honest newspaper is the best history book”. But times are a’changin’.
I have leaned just as often on Mark Twain’s sage advice to “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the roll," but these are different times.
A new generation of digital media outlets, like a new sheriff in town, is putting the old guard out to pasture. My sentimental inner Rans Stoddard sort of cringes at that, but the fact remains that you are reading this column on one of those new outlets. Selah.
Digital media, like Cowboy State Daily, don’t need clunky offset presses or acres of floor space. They only require curiosity and good wifi and can operate much more cheaply and are more nimbly of foot. News produced this way can reach your eyeballs in minutes instead of making you wait until tomorrow morning.
Wyoming has a thriving herd of journalists using electrons rather than ink, and they represent the full spectrum of political thought and editorial viewpoint. From the progressive WyoFile to the MAGA conservatism of David Iverson’s Cowboy State Politics and everything in between, there is something to please any reader’s taste buds.
Often hybrids of print and broadcast journalism, digital outlets deliver content to your eyes and ears throughout the day via your phone or laptop. You don’t need to wait for a newspaper to land on your porch with a thud.
This immediacy is one of the strong currents that print journalism swims against, and is another reason that Wyoming’s traditional newspapers are struggling.
The Wyoming Press Association, (WPA) which has been around since 1877, has been the advocate and mouthpiece for print journalism and a stalwart defender of the First Amendment and an informed public for well over a century. But WPA does not accept digital media outlets as members.
As their member newspapers bleed readership and circulation, WPA’s voice in Wyoming’s halls of power will lose its strength and authority. That’s simply the nature of the game.
The power vacuum that is left is dangerous to a democratic society. Without a free press to push back, political and government forces will feast on the public’s thirst for information. Back in the day, WPA provided that push-back, but their paper & ink muscles are beginning to atrophy.
Please don’t misunderstand, I have deep gratitude and respect for WPA and what it has done. But like I said, times are a’changin’.
As Wyoming’s digital media outlets gain potency, and as more and more cowboys and cowgirls turn to them for news, it would be nice if these diverse outfits could get their collective act together and fill in this critical gap.
If our maverick bloggers, podcasters and digital “newspapers” could coalesce into an umbrella organization, government and political opportunists in Wyoming would have to sit up and take notice. They’d be forced to recognize a stout new firewall standing between their bullshit and Wyoming’s citizens.
In order for the new consortium to be effective, the members would need to focus their work on common goals like protecting free speech and free press, promoting transparency in government and ensuring citizens’ access to all viewpoints. They’d need to save their ammo for the real battles.
They’d shoot themselves in the foot if they wasted their energy arguing dogma, like “who is a real Republican," “can a boy be a girl” or other dogwhistles of the day. That would be a recipe for disaster.
I’d like to see a Wyoming digital media organization establish itself and fulfill that mission. Properly done, it would edit Mark Twain’s truism to read, “Never argue with a media outfit that has good wifi.”
Rod Miller can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org