Thinking about your newspaper's future

I don’t know about you, but I’m not much of a sitter. By that, I mean I can sit through speech for a few minutes, but then I usually start to get bored. That’s when my mind starts drifting and my body gets squirmy.

That may sound strange, coming from a guy that gives speeches for a living, but it’s probably the reason that I usually finish talking a few minutes ahead of schedule. I empathize with the audience.

The exception comes when I hear someone really smart. Funny, I can sit and listen to a brilliant thinker for hours, although it seems people with the most to say generally are the ones who say it in the shortest amount of time.

That was the case three days ago, when I heard Dr. James Hildreth, dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Davis, a pioneer in HIV and AIDS research, address the graduating Ph.D. and Masters candidates at The University of Arkansas.

Dr. Hildreth spoke for no more than five minutes, but I’ll never forget what he said. “You should know,” he began, “that most of what you’ve learned in your time as a student is wrong.” He had my attention as he continued, “But that’s OK. The most important thing you’ve learned at this university is how to think.”

I couldn’t help but think of all the speakers and teachers I’ve had over the years. Just try “helping” a middle school student with homework. When I try to help my children with their math homework, I quickly learn that math has changed and my answers are no longer valid.

Dr. Hildreth is right. The most important thing we learn through education and experience is how to think. Accepting information as gospel, just because it comes to us from an “expert” is no more valid than assuming everything we’ve learned in school is valid. Maybe we could learn something about newspapers from Dr. Hildreth. Perhaps our teachers have been wrong. Maybe we’ve been listening to experts when we should have been using our own experience to think about the best ways to move our publications forward.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Tech survey offers glimpse into the past

Robyn Gentile, Tennessee Press Association, dropped by my office to give me a folder recently. “I thought you might be interested,” she said.

Was I ever. It was a survey I had conducted 12 years ago for Tennessee Press Association, to determine what type of technology needs existed among member papers. The following are a few of the findings:

- A majority of 71 percent of Tennessee newspapers were Mac based, with 29 percent using PCs for design. Interestingly, that number hasn’t changed too much over the years.

- Although InDesign had been around for three years, most papers were still loyal to QuarkXPress (version 4 was most popular), used by 61 percent of respondents. 28 percent used Pagemaker (ask your grandparents about that), while InDesign and Creator were used by a handful of newspapers.

- The most fascinating finding to me: 22 percent of newspapers were still pasting up pages. That’s hard to imagine. The majority, 59 percent, were printing pages out to film on an imagesetter.

The survey questioned publishers about training. Most, it seems, favored large training events in central locations and training at press association conventions over smaller, hands-on training located within an hour’s drive. Again, interesting.

It was fascinating to look through the surveys and see names I recognized. Many were publishers who have retired. Others were good friends who have since passed away. Several were young editors who are now publishers, many of whom now serve as board members and chairs for Tennessee Press Association. And some, it was good to see, are still publishing their papers today.

And what about those bad hard drives?

David Spencer, Kentucky Press Association, emailed in a panic. Did I have any advice concerning where to send a hard drive that had bitten the dust.

Fortunately, he didn’t need to send it anywhere. I suggested he download Data Rescue 4 (he later told me his computer used Data Rescue 3) to restore the lost data.

Thankfully, it worked. I remember using Data Rescue after Gary Rudy’s camera card died a couple of years ago, along with all the pics from the IFPA national convention. I asked Gary to send the card to me and, fortunately, as it did for David, Data Rescue restored the photo files from the camera card onto an external drive.

Find more information concerning Data Rescue (US $99) at prosofteng.com.

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