The Omaha World-Herald’s Back (But only on Sundays)

Before I tell you why we began getting the Sunday Omaha World-Herald delivered to our door again, I first have to tell you why we stopped in the first place.

It was during the fall about four or five years ago. A long-time subscriber to the weekend  OWH, one golden Sunday morning I walked to the end of my driveway and looked for the familiar orange delivery bag -- (a.k.a. “the poop bag”) -- but could not find it.

Maybe the carrier was sick or someone stole our copy. Whatever. I called the Omaha World-Herald circulation desk and they promptly delivered another copy a few hours later. But because it had arrived after my morning coffee, it sat unread.

The following Sunday the same thing happened. Maybe the delivery guy was sick. Who knows? But after the third Sunday of no newspaper during coffee, I complained to the helpful circulation lady, who explained that even if I hadn’t called, the paper would have been delivered...eventually.

“The Huskers played a night game last night, and we had to hold the presses to get the coverage in. That’s why the paper was late.”

So we cancelled our subscription. Neither Teresa nor I follow Big Red, and if we did, we wouldn’t need to read the Sunday paper to find out what happened the night before, since every Husker game is now televised with highlights endlessly replayed on local news casts through the following Wednesday.

The fact that the World-Herald valued its Husker coverage more than the rest of the content in the paper -- to the point where it impacted delivery of the valuable Sunday edition -- reflected the paper’s news judgement, ethics and editorial values.

The cancellation was no big loss. The Omaha World-Herald had become a shadow of its former self. In the “old days” before the Internet, you needed two hands to carry the Sunday edition inside the house, its girth the size of a log from a felled, ancient sequoia. Post Internet, the Sunday OWH was something you could casually tuck under your arm while carrying a couple bags of groceries into the house. More stick than log, barely big enough to use as a flyswatter. Once unwrapped, the newspaper’s content was mostly reprinted wire stories that I’d already read on the web.

Old news is definitely not good news, it’s a waste of money, and if they weren’t even going to deliver it in time to read with my morning coffee, well there was no reason to continue the subscription.

I hadn’t been alone in the decision. Around the same time I began noticing during my morning dog walks that the orange poop bags at the end of driveways in my neighborhood were turning blue. More and more people had begun getting the Sunday New York Times instead of the OWH. Even though it was more expensive and often focused on the East Coast, at least its content was original and unavailable on the Internet. Plus, despite conceivably being produced halfway across the country, somehow it miraculously got delivered before the local rag.

Soon after, our poop bags also changed from orange to blue.

And that would have been the end of this story except that recently something’s happened at the Omaha World-Herald that has brought the orange bags back into our lives. A new crop of young guns is taking over the paper, headed by columnist Matthew Hansen.

Hansen made a big splash last January when he wrote a column that tracked down the photographer who snapped a photo of exploding manholes in downtown Omaha that went viral on social media. His column then got reported in the New York Times. Had Hansen taken the usual Omaha World-Herald sterile, black-and-white robot-writer approach, it would never have been read. Instead, he wrote it as a personal column.

Since then, Hansen’s column has become the most talked-about writing in the Omaha World-Herald -- and it has nothing to do with Big Red. This Sunday’s column was a piece on childless couples, a local follow-up to a Time Magazine cover story about the national trend of couples deciding never to have kids. Hansen confessed in the story he was part of that demographic, and by letting his readers know -- and sharing his own trepidations -- he made a connection with this reader (who also belongs to that demographic).

Joining Hansen as part of the New Wave of OWH writers is his wife -- food critic and reporter Sarah Baker Hansen (a Reader alum), columnist Erin Grace, and features writer Cara Pesek. What makes these writers different is the personal approach to their writing -- a style that weaves their own experiences with their reporting. It’s a style common in some magazines and alternative publications, a style of writing that a daily like the OWH will be forced to dedicate more space toward if it’s going to survive in the Internet age. 

Wisely, the OWH knows this and is doing what it can to make readers aware of these columnists and critics. Hansen now owns a chunk of the front page every Sunday, something unheard of with past columnists.

Oh, there’s still plenty of shit in the OWH, which is why we don’t bother with a daily subscription. The paper continues to regurgitate outdated stories for dinosaur subscribers afraid of computers. The editorial page still leans heavily to the right despite the left-leanings of the paper’s benefactor, who now has his own personal reporter covering his every move.

And no matter how established and “Omaha famous” Hansen becomes, he’ll always be dwarfed by Big Red, as evidenced by last Sunday’s cover. While the columnist’s thumbnail portrait was tucked above the fold, it was a glamour shot of Nebraska’s feckless quarterback that dominated the entire top-quarter of the front page.

I guess that’s what the OWH thinks sells papers... for now.


Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 01:45 pm
on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

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