This newspaper is not worth saving. Forget whether you are reading this online or on a real piece of paper. The business model that has supported local news for 150 years is now dead. It’s deader than dead, so it’s time to move on.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

And, if our democracy also isn’t worth saving, then we can all move on to more time on Facebook, YouTube videos and TikTok hilarities. Forget what our Founding Fathers said about the necessity of a free and independent press to preserve our free society and individual liberties. Surely, somebody can think of a good substitute.

America’s newspapers have been operating as private companies that paid their bills by selling commercial advertising. That was always a phony deal because advertisers only wanted an audience to sell to; they didn’t think about preserving democracy or the public’s right to know. It was just a lucky accident that their advertising money paid for journalists to go to school board meetings, monitor the spread of a pandemic, watch how local taxes get spent, report on the police and local elected officials and help the local community celebrate important milestones, achievements and heroes.

Well, that lucky accident is over. It has been killed by the big Internet giants and the COVID-19 shuttered economy that is also killing other local businesses. What’s worse is, these “news deserts” are being filled by torrents of misinformation and hyper-gossip on social media like Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

So if newspapers are going away, what will happen to the journalists who used to work there? If car dealers, grocery stores and drug companies won’t buy any more advertising, how will these professional journalists get paid? Sad to say but there aren’t enough local news readers willing to pay as much as a dollar a week to sustain these news reporters’ and editors’ jobs. (Commercial advertising subsidies convinced newspaper readers that the news is cheap when it actually is quite expensive.)

What’s the answer? If this newspaper is not worth saving, what is?

We believe the future of local news is digital.

We believe the future of local news is community-ownership as a nonprofit institution.

We believe the future of local news requires new collaborations and collective voices.

We believe the future of local news will be funded by community donations, private grants, new sources of public funding and local business sponsorships.

None of that will look like a newspaper, but it will listen like one, maintain high ethics of transparency and fairness, and, it will possess a strong leadership voice for the community.

Local news is a public good and service. Investments in local news and local journalists are investments in the local community. A well-funded team of journalists is the best partner for other local community institutions and nonprofits which need to share information and decision-making in a trusted environment. Since Adam and Eve, we’ve always needed storytellers.

By example, the fact-based COVID-19 pandemic news collected in these current times by local journalists is an essential public health service. All the many voices, protests, demands and differing opinions at our Black Lives Matter, police brutality and social justice rallies are all just noise until someone collects them in an unbiased story form, carefully separating fact from opinion. Journalists are trained and experienced to do this unique role. The best local journalists are committed observers with a single quest for the truth wherever it lays.

These are times when comprehensive news and trusted news sources are needed most. We are sharing more news with more readers than ever before on our website, e-newsletters, social media and remaining print editions. We also are working overtime to invent a replacement for newspapers so we can continue to pay our journalists. We are encouraged by the many donations we continue to receive but we need many more.

(1) comment

Paul Thielen

say it ain't so

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