I have long had the vague idea that newspapers need to recognize that the core of their business is the business of their communities.
Sometimes the experiences of your friends have a way of making vague ideas poignant and concrete.
Such is the case for me with my friend, Cole Camplese, and his experience with the Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg, PA.
The Press Enterprise is the local paper in Bloomsburg, a town that was hit last week with a devastating flood.
Have you read much about it? No? Well, I would point you to the paper so you could learn more about the lives of those impacted by the flood, but if I did that, you would quickly come face to face with this:
No, to learn about the flood from this paper allegedly dedicated to “Serving Bloomsburg,” you would need either to subscribe or visit their Facebook Page, where you would find comments from Facebook users and the occasional link to the Press Enterprise itself; and if you would like to read the articles to which these links point … well, then you would need to subscribe.
Of course, you could also look at the images and stories gathered by individuals like Cole.
These images and stories articulate well the business of Bloomsburg at the moment. And it seems to me that the business of a newspaper designed to serve this community should really revolve around the business of the community itself. While the newspaper did unlock its content during the flood and in its immediate aftermath; it has now closed itself off again from the wider community of communication that is the internet.
But it is the strange tension in the name of the paper that I find rich with ambiguous meaning. At a time when the culture of printing is giving way to a new, more dynamic digital culture the very enterprise of the press has been called into question.
When we speak of the “enterprise” in business terms, we understand, as Dictionary.com says, “a company organized for commercial purposes.” But the most common meaning of the term is “a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy.” I like that one. But it does not seem to be the meaning at play in the Press Enterprise.
Of course, we have been living since the invention of the printing press around 1440 in a print culture that has long been characterized by what might be called a logic of compression, impression and even repression. The printing press itself is an impressive machine designed to press information upon us, imprinting mass culture with the ideas, thoughts and values that have the imprimatur of the those with authority.
The enterprise of pressing has been lucrative indeed.
But what might the press enterprise look like if we took seriously the common meaning of ‘enterprise’ as an important, difficult and bold endeavor?
It would need to become something less depressing than the business of printing. It would need to be more attuned to the business of the community as the community engages in activities that make lives meaningful. It would need to become a curator, a collector, an open space of gathering, sharing, re-mixing and responding.
It would need to relinquish its tendencies to impress, compress and contain. In short, the Press Enterprise needs to become a shared, community enterprise.
And if the newspaper business truly becomes the business of communities, I am confident it will continue to be lucrative as well; for people will come not to be told or imprinted upon, but because they find a place in which they can engage in a common enterprise about the business of their community.