Since starting My Edmonds News in 2009, I’ve attended numerous national seminars aimed at helping journalists become more entrepreneurial. In recent months, I have come to realize that much of what I learned is the reason why journalism is in such trouble.
Nearly all of us in those seminars — funded by prestigious national journalism organizations like the Knight Foundation — were writers and editors, many laid off from closing or downsizing newspapers. Given our editorial backgrounds, we tended to regard our “customers” as our readers — those who viewed and appreciated our work. Not true, our instructors taught us. Your customers are your advertisers.
Let me tell you why that’s mostly wrong.
Of course, advertisers ARE valued customers. My Edmonds News, and our sister publications MLTnews and Lynnwood Today, would not exist today without the support of all those companies and organizations you see on our websites — and I encourage you to support them as they have supported us. But placing the value on advertising alone discounts the very essence of community journalism — to inform and engage readers where they live. To do that job well, it’s not enough to just publish information surrounded by advertising. The publication itself — and those who contribute to it — must have earned the community’s trust.
Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron identified the problem succinctly in an interview earlier this year:
“No question: trust is our greatest challenge,” he said. “We are constantly worried about resources, social media, monetization and all these kinds of things. All of those pale in comparison to this particular challenge.”
For me, earning your trust means looking very carefully at how we cover topics to ensure we are as fair as possible to all sides. That’s why we don’t endorse candidates or take positions on local issues. It is my belief that as soon as we do that, we alienate those who feel differently. It also somehow elevates us into a position of power that I don’t believe we deserve. We are journalists, not power brokers. It is not our job to make sure someone gets elected by endorsing their candidacy. That said, we certainly encourage our readers to express their opinions — and they do. And I believe they are more comfortable doing so because they know we are fair.
Which gets back to that trust issue.
We not only pledge to cover the community fairly, we also do our best to own up to our mistakes. If we make an error, we will correct it. We accept criticism and try to learn from it. We do not shy away from controversial issues but we also don’t have any bones to pick or axes to grind. We don’t see the value in making fun of others — even for entertainment value.
Finally, we know that we have to earn your trust every day — and we don’t take it for granted.
Our commitment to fairness has been highlighted in thank you notes I have received from readers following my column of a few weeks ago asking for voluntary subscriptions to support our work. I continue to be humbled by your support and if you have not yet subscribed, I encourage you to do so at this link.
Until next time,
Teresa Wippel, Publisher
P.S. Here’s another easy way to support the work of our writers, editors, graphic designers, technical support and sales people: If you shop at Amazon.com, would you please visit there through this link? We’ll get a small commission on your purchase(s), which helps support our work. You’ll pay the exact same price as clicking directly to Amazon.