Herald editor: Papers evolve and survive

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- After just a month under 27 years in the newspaper business, Albany Herald Editor Jim Hendricks has seen seismic changes in the industry.

"I came to The Herald about a year after they did away with most of the typewriters and replaced them with humongous computer terminals that sounded like they ran on diesel engines," Hendricks told the Albany Rotary Club Thursday at Doublegate Country Club. "The landscape has changed, and it's changed a lot. I have thousands of times the computing power in my laptop than the mainframe server we used in 1983 had.

"Information comes pouring in through e-mail and faxes. The biggest challenge today is culling out the junk to find what's legitimate."

But Hendricks added that the Internet had made news gathering quicker in many ways.

"Instead of having to write a government agency for documentation for an article, you can often access the files through the Internet, which was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye when I started work," the editor quipped.

The most radical moves have occurred on the Web, where the paper has been building its online presence.

"The biggest change has been our foray into online reporting," Hendricks said. "The traditional newspaper's news cycle was a 24-hour one. We went from today's deadline to tomorrow's deadline. The advantage electronic media had on newspapers was that while they have never matched our depth of reporting, they were positioned to get news out faster."

Until now.

"Now that's changing," Hendricks continued. "We made a serious investment to upgrade our Internet site in a two-stage plan. Our current platform allows us to update news in real time. For instance, when City Commissioner Morris Gurr announced he wasn't running for re-election, the story was texted to an editor from a reporter attending the news conference and we had the breaking news online before the commissioner said, 'I appreciate y'all coming to my news conference.'

"When the School Board released Superintendent-select Joshua Murfree's contract (Wednesday), we had it online within minutes."

While technology has been responsible for most changes at the paper, the most important change is a much simpler concept.

"The biggest change we've made in the past few years is to really concentrate on local stories, especially on Page 1A. This is an effort that is top-down from my publisher, Mike Gebhart," Hendricks said. "Now at The Herald, we try for an all-local Page 1A every day.

And let's face it, local content is what separates your newspaper from somebody else's."