A new public survey by Pew Research Center has made two findings that are not surprising, but they should deeply disturb all of us.
First, 71 percent of Americans think local news outlets are doing well financially. (Not true!)
Second, fewer than one in six Americans are paying anything for local news. (Come on, people!)
These two numbers speak to the massive predicament that local reporters, editors and publishers find themselves in. There is a deep ignorance among the public about us.
The reality is some 24,000 jobs in the news media have been cut this year. Newspapers and magazines seem to close or downsize by the day. In the last iteration of this column, we discussed the virtual shutdown of the 42-year-old Seattle Weekly.
But there are ways to make sense of this situation — and to solve it.
First off, we need to invest in media literacy.
Having been educated at public schools and universities, I learned about the three branches of government: legislative, judiciary and executive. The press, “the fourth estate,” is arguably as or more important as any of them. But it only popped up here and there. In my experience, there was no curriculum dedicated to exploring its history, importance and how it functions today.
Why don’t we educate young people about the press? We live in an information age, and democracy depends on voters being well informed.
Second, we should valorize reporters in popular culture in the same way as, say, firefighters.
Reporters are courageous detectives who work in the public interest. We have statues of firefighters in Seattle. We should build monuments to tenacious, heroic reporters like Sydney Brownstone of KUOW, whose reporting led to sexual assault convictions, or Jim Brunner and Lewis Kamb of the Seattle Times, whose investigations unearthed a pattern of abuse allegations against former Mayor Ed Murray.
Third, journalists need to build strong, ethical connections with their communities and they need to serve them by making concrete impacts.
As a profession, we haven’t focused enough on that. We’ve made self-inflicted wounds. For example, at a recent journalism conference, a former newspaper reporter described a disastrous initiative by corporate overlords to assign monetary value to every story they published online.
Look at the Mueller report. According to the Attorney General, Mueller didn’t make a finding of collusion between Trump and Russia. But countless media figures and institutions spent the past two years obsessing over it, to the exclusion of coverage of bread-and-butter issues that everyday people are facing.
All of which brings me to Real Change. My editorship is coming to a close, because I’ve accepted an offer to be the Digital Director for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve only felt more acutely how special Real Change is. Vendors are the beating heart of the organization. But the newsroom shouldn’t be overlooked. While Seattle arts coverage has declined, Lisa Edge writes about artists and their works with care and a critical eye. Ashley Archibald covers the homelessness beat with exacting accuracy and insight. Art Director Jon Williams assembles text and images into a weekly package that is pleasing to the eye and to hold. And sensationalism just isn’t in their vocabulary.
We published people of color in our op-ed space six out of eight times — from a local poet to a state representative — as part of Real Change’s initiative to uphold and demonstrate greater racial equity in its work.
The next editor will face a big job to double down on Real Change’s core strengths while modernizing and exploring new ways of connecting with readers. But he or she can’t do it alone. I hope you’ll value Real Change’s reporting in the way that it deserves, and be rooting for the whole team with everything you’ve got.
Read the full April 3 - 9 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change and donate now to support independent, award-winning journalism.