Griscom: The time we spent together

Griscom: The time we spent together

June 27th, 2010 by Tom Griscom in Opinion Columns

For at least 530 weeks -- over more than 10 years -- you allowed me to come into your home for a Sunday visit.

Over the years the topics expanded from explaining the ways that the Chattanooga Times Free Press was coming together, to glimpses inside the newsroom and at how major events were covered, to now wrestling with the future of traditional media in a changing marketplace for information.

We examined the early errors when stories jumped from one page and could not be found on another. There were the frustrations when stories did not end with punctuation, and you asked appropriately, "Why?"

The day before the two competitive newspapers in Chattanooga merged, both publications knew how to punctuate and how to paginate (following the start of a story to its logical conclusion on another page).

A sign posted in the newsroom that remains today states, "Details make the difference." The point was that if you cannot do the simple things, then how do you expect readers to trust what you publish when it challenges the norm or questions the actions of those in positions of authority.

For the 10-plus years as e-mail became more of the norm for communication (and anonymity), tones of harshness increased as well. But the one consolation was in appreciating that at least there was interaction, which meant people were reading. The younger generation that never heard of the "silent majority" of the Nixon years need only observe our interaction with readers to fully appreciate those who generations earlier were tagged with that label.

But that is the First Amendment and the principle behind a free press.

In the first formative months of the Times Free Press, there was little doubt that the merged newspaper would not resemble either of its component parts -- The Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press -- except on the two editorial pages.

Gone were the grip-and-grin photos that were the hallmark of the Free Press and a great marketing ploy that positioned the afternoon newspaper as the community news provider in contrast to The Times.

The Times produced great writers who went on to national prominence and was a voice of change during periods of social upheaval in the South and across the country.

Any credible organization is going to have its supporters and detractors. By that measure the Times Free Press has arrived.

But those early challenges of meshing two staffs who had competed fiercely, of merging two cultures that were exact opposites, and of finding a voice, image and brand called the Times Free Press seem fleeting memories compared with the challenges and opportunities ahead.

On the horizon -- near and somewhat distant -- are the issues of how to distribute content, at what cost, to an audience that in some instances is aging out and in other cases is coming into a content free-for-all.

We will figure out how to put out the content and how to remain the dominant voice in the community.

But there are two traits that cannot be ignored in order to maintain brand loyalty: value and uniqueness.

Any number of content providers in print, online and otherwise can regurgitate information from across the country and around the world. Few are able to delve deeply into a community such as Chattanooga and share the stories that shape the lives of those who live here. That is unique.

The value proposition ties in an additional twist: What is provided is worth the price to pay for access. The days of being a commodity have to end -- that is what happened in the rush to the Internet.

You as a reader should encourage those who publish the Times Free Press every day to be platform-agnostic (that includes print) and share stories rich in words, images and sounds that are not found anywhere else.

Freedom comes through an informed public.

An informed public is not monolithic but willing to grapple with the multiple sides of an issue in the search for truth.

Demand nothing less from those whom you trust to provide you with the information that shapes life where you have chosen to live.

Keep the light of a free press burning and shining.

Be willing to pay because for the journalist whose bylines you see each day, the passion is about more than money.

Contact Tom Griscom at griscot@mac.com.