By Natalie Bruzon
Can an “old newspaper guy” and a “digital media guru” agree on anything relating to newspapers? Actually, they can agree on most things.
As The Orchard News and Antelope County News celebrate National Newspaper Week, Sid Charf and Carrie Pitzer talked about the newspaper business - the past, present and future. Of course, that means they talked about how to incorporate print with online news, among other things.
“I believe in a balance,” Charf said. “They’re both good sources of information. I get on the websites - you, Norfolk Daily News, Lincoln Journal. I think there’s a balance. You get the immediate news articles a lot faster on the Internet, and you’re going to get more in-depth (stories) out of a newspaper. I think there has to be a good combination of the two.”
Pitzer agreed and said, “This is still old-fashioned journalism. It’s just presented in a modern way. Reporters are digging into topics, covering sporting events. We just happen to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and videos to reach our audience, as well as the Internet and newspaper.”
Charf is arguably the most experienced publisher in Antelope County, having started in the business at the age of 11 at the Neligh News & Leader and eventually becoming the owner of it, the Clearwater Record/Ewing News and several others before retiring from the business in 2003.
Pitzer purchased The Orchard News last February and became the youngest publisher in the county. She did the unthinkable in today’s world by purchasing a newspaper after having built a successful digital presence with the Antelope County News.
Charf, who reads the ACN online and also has a subscription to its newspaper, said print media has progressed greatly over the years. He started with an old letter press and eventually upgraded to set printing with a two drum press.
He used wax to “paste up” the pages before taking photos of them with a large camera. After negatives were developed, plates were made and then put onto the press.
But times have changed. Pitzer said her newspaper, which offers color pages every week, is much more high-tech. It’s completely computerized with pages sent directly from the computer to the plate for the press, which has 24 drums rather than just two.
Charf said the color pages really make a newspaper stand out.
“Like any other industry, print is changing, advancing and becoming more sophisticated,” he said. “Printing in color is expensive. It takes twice the equipment and twice as many employees to operate the equipment. But there’s no doubt about it - it enhances the product.”
Charf said while he sees improvements, he’s also noticing changes in the weekly newspaper scene that he doesn’t like. Sports coverage seems to be declining in some papers but not The Orchard News/Antelope County News, he said. Another issue is absentee ownership - again, not an issue with the TON/ACN.
“Now what I’m seeing is a lot of weeklies are being purchased, and whomever is there is there. A lot of them have very little journalism experience,” Charf said.
Again, the TON/ACN is not following that suit. Pitzer has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, as does reporter Jenny Higgins. Editor Natalie Bruzon and videographer Jaimie Schmitz also have four-year communication degrees. Other employees have different degrees and experience to enhance the overall product, Pitzer said.
Charf said he’s a firm believer in online media because that is how people want their news - fast and accurate.
“You can’t deny it. It’s progress and the way the world is turning right now, everyone wants something bigger, better and faster. You have to keep up with it,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean newspapers aren’t important either. Charf said they still remain the place to find many different stories, are the platform for longer stories and they include print inserts and advertising that doesn’t link to a website or social media.
“If there is a fire, they want to know where it’s at. They don’t want to wait until Wednesday or Thursday to get the paper. That’s where electronic (media) has the advantage over print,” Charf said.
Pitzer said she’s often asked why she chose to purchase a newspaper after building an online empire.
“I grew up reading The Orchard News every week, so it’s important to me to not have my hometown newspaper just survive, but to thrive,” she said. “I believe newspapers are important to the community, and I want to share our resources and the great stories people find on the Antelope County News website with our newspaper readers.”
That desire has been well received as the subscriptions and over-the-counter sales continue to steadily increase. Editors and publishers all over the state are noticing the newspaper and asking about the changes, Pitzer said.
“An editor for a larger newspaper in eastern Nebraska told me last week that what we’re doing here in Antelope County is cutting edge for the media world. We absolutely know it is, but it’s still gratifying for our peers to recognize that,” Pitzer said. “What’s more is we are providing cutting edge media while still growing our newspaper by leaps and bounds.”
She added, “We support newspapers and proudly work with many area newspapers to help them grow, too. That’s the key - cooperation and collaboration to better serve our readers. You can’t be just a newspaper, though. You have to be a news source first and foremost, and that’s what we are.”