Lana Flowers shares experiences with journalism in the age of technology

 

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Photo courtesy of nwaonline.com

With technology being increasingly utilized by journalists and other news sources, certain print media outlets are falling behind or aren’t making as much print ad revenue. This affects not only the newspaper industry, but the workforce as well.

Lana Flowers, a former journalist and copy editor from Arkansas, had first-hand experience with newsrooms that refused to change and fell behind in the new wave of technology. Her career in news writing spanned 20 years.

According to the Pew Research Center, the newspaper workforce dropped 39 percent in the past 20 years. It also reported that in 2015 newspaper circulation had its biggest decline since 2010 and non-digital advertising revenue fell 10 percent.

For journalists, jobs entail following leads, making connections, interviewing sources, reporting and checking facts responsibly. It’s almost common knowledge now that doing these things is a lot easier with technology.

Flowers is from Oklahoma and graduated with a degree in journalism from Oklahoma State University. She moved to Bentonville, Ark., and started her journalism career working for the Northwest Arkansas News on June 12, 1991.

She wrote stories for the morning paper since it had both a morning and afternoon edition. The paper ran six days a week and had five competitors. By the time one of her stories was published in the morning, a competing newspaper like The Daily Record would have frequently copied her idea for their afternoon edition.

Her favorite stories to cover were scandals — people doing wrong or corruption in the prosecutor’s office. She covered conflicts concerning everything from a landlord with bad conditions taking advantage of poor immigrant families to sex-scandals in state legislature to a Bentonville mayor stealing tax money to privately develop his own land.

The day she approached her publishers and told them that Wal-Mart had created a website and weren’t going to spend as much money on print advertising was when the first signs of trouble began. The company didn’t want to adapt to digital advertisements and could not afford to provide technology to their employees beyond demo-versions, she said.

“They didn’t know how to monetize what little advertising they had. I was like, ‘Do you not get that in 5 years there won’t be any print revenue?’” said Flowers.

Over time, print advertising became more expensive since advertisers had their own websites. Since her news outlet didn’t want to spend the time or money to keep up with technology or digital ad revenues, the company suffered and lost a lot of advertisers.

“I became so frustrated with their inability to change. [Technology] was right there, we had it, but they didn’t want to use it.”

Before the Internet, news writers would have to wait until the morning and frantically flip open the paper to check and see if they made any mistakes. But online, writers can edit as they please.

“Many nights I would wake up in a cold sweat like, ‘did I take out things that were wrong?’” she said.

With the print media industry declining, her newspaper had a merger. Flowers became an assistant business editor and did a lot of copy editing. However, not everyone was as experienced as her by that point. A young and inexperienced editor ran a story on the front page that was wrong — it stated that Wal-Mart was headquartered in Little Rock, Ark. with an AP byline, when it’s always been based in Bentonville.

“They cut forces so bad, there were major mistakes being made and management didn’t seem to care…If you can’t get the small easy to verify details right, why should our readers trust anything else we publish?” she said.

As a copy editor, her job was to double check everything, especially names, places and spelling. Good journalism depends on properly vetted and verified facts, she said.

“Good journalism should be intelligent ethical people, trained with standards, to go and gather facts and information and report it responsibly. Blogging and tweeting are not journalism. Journalism is reporting facts according to a set of regulated standards,” she said.

The Northwest Arkansas News has significantly less competition now and significantly less staff. Even after the merger, the paper is one-fifth of the size of what it was when it was it’s own paper.  

The Pew Research Center projects newspaper circulation to decline even further in 2016. This is bad news for print media, but it doesn’t have to be for journalists or copy editors.

Flowers has friends that work for a news media outlet called The City Wire, a news media outlet in northwest Arkansas that merged with Talk Business. They cover whatever they want, aren’t limited to a topic or print and run digital advertisements. It’s a news outlet that adapted to the technological revolution and are thriving because of it, she said.

After going through five layoffs and a merger, Flowers left the Northwest Arkansas News in April 2010. But she said she misses being a news writer and at times truly felt like she was making a difference through her writing. To Flowers, the job was about feeling like she could make a change and not about the paycheck.

“Do you what you love and the money is secondary,” she said.

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