Why ask why?
Without the “why” what’s the point?
So goes an advertising campaign launched this winter by my newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun. It is designed to give readers and potential readers of our paper a substantive reason for picking up Las Vegas’ independent voice. I liked the phrase when I heard it and now that the Tribune Co. acquisition has been announced, along with my family’s role in it, I like it even more.
For a long time, newspapers and other serious media players have struggled to figure out what it is they have to do to continue to attract readers specifically young ones in light of the shift to the Internet for all things informational and the advertising outflow that seems to have accompanied those readers.
Focusing people on why things happen and why those events are important to them seemed to be an appropriate way to reach out to the market. It is also an essential ingredient for an informed electorate, and hence a better, more informed democracy.
Since the Tribune acquisition was announced along with Sam Zell’s decision to include me on the board of directors as well as an investor, the constant and unending question from other news organizations has been “Why?” In short, why Brian?
I could give the answer, which I would hope were the case, of something like, “Sam recognized my brilliance, my charm and my overwhelming personality,” but that probably wouldn’t fly with anyone outside of my immediate family. There had to be another reason.
I can tell you I have searched high and low for the answer, but the best I can come up with goes something like this:
I was born into a newspaper family. More precisely, my father, Hank Greenspun, was a man who understood the power of the press and carefully used that gift to help a fledgling community grow toward the kind of greatness it could achieve only if the people who lived in Las Vegas and who were moving here in droves were knowledgeable about those matters that directly affected them.
In short, the Las Vegas Sun became the conscience of a Las Vegas that grew up despite a good old boy network, a mobbed-up social and business environment, a segregated society that could not endure and a host of other challenges that could never have been met without Hank’s voice leading the way.
What we all learned from watching Hank Greenspun was how important a responsible newspaper can be to a community. And while many newspapers and others are struggling with that concept, we have always understood our responsibility.
We have also been fortunate enough in Las Vegas to be able to acquire or create various pieces of what has to be the 21st-century media puzzle, what many people believe to be the answer to the “how” question, as in how to reach the next generations in a way they want to be reached with the kind of news and information that will be vital to them and the democracy they inherit. That has allowed us to experiment in such a way as to give real meaning to the convergence concept that we hear so much about these days.
But, most important, I believe, we have learned not only the value of a responsible newspaper to its community but also the essential nature of credible journalism, which is necessary to reach that goal. Walking that fine line between journalistic integrity and community relevance is not easy ever. It starts with a respect that is earned between the journalists and those who are responsible for the newspaper product, grows to that all-important relationship between the news organization and its readers, and results in an understanding and fulfillment of what a newspaper’s First Amendment obligations are all about.
This may be a complicated way of saying that I believe in the vitality and the vital nature of America’s newsrooms and the people who toil in them. I also believe that the very nature of our democracy hangs in the balance of how well we do our jobs of providing credible, quality news and information and how well the citizens accept and believe our work. That is a constant challenge but one I believe is essential if this great country is going to grow and prosper.
Sam Zell is a very smart man. Perhaps it was more than my charm. Perhaps he recognized a passion for newsrooms and new media and wanted to give that passion a seat at his table.
I am not nearly as smart as Sam nor would I be presumptuous enough to say I really know his reasons. But I do know that an opportunity presented itself to continue a legacy of meaningful and committed journalism and that I had to be smart enough to jump at the chance. That is what I did.
We already know the who, what, when and where of Sam Zell’s partnership with the employees of the Tribune Co. Perhaps now we know the “why” of my involvement.
And, as every good newsman knows, the five W’s tell the story. This one, this story about the Tribune Co., is just starting to be written.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun and a member of the board of Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times. This article originally appeared in the Las Vegas Sun.
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