From the Publisher’s Desk: A local solution to the ‘fake news’ fight

Teresa Wippel

On Friday morning, I’ll be giving a “TED Talk” of sorts to high school students and staff at Mountlake Terrace High School. The talk will be part of a morning program organized by longtime MTHS journalism instructor Vine DeMiero. The topic? “CLEAR! Defibrillating Journalism Before It Redlines.”

I have spoken in the past to students, and the question inevitably comes up: “Would you advise anyone to pursue a journalism career?” The answer is always the same: “Yes, but…”

I then launch into my usual spiel about journalism’s role in defending democracy, engaging citizens and — my favorite line of late — comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I continue with remarks about about how our profession is no different than law or medicine or engineering — we must encourage and mentor young people to follow in our footsteps, because the work we do is not just important, but critical to our way of life.

But…will they have a career to follow? Journalism jobs — at least the formal reporting, writing and editing jobs we are used to — continue to decline as newspapers downsize. Online publications are filling the void to an extent, but it’s impossible to recapture all of those lost jobs — or the revenue that newspapers have lost since the Internet and the creation of companies like Craigslist and Facebook.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, Facebook alone now earns more advertising revenue than all U.S. newspapers combined. And having a digital edition of a newspaper hasn’t helped publishers that much either. They earn a fraction of their revenues from them compared to what they earn from print.

For someone like me — a community-based, online-only publisher who relies on advertising revenue to pay for writers, editors, photographers, tech support, marketing and web hosting — that’s sobering.

But citizens should be worried about that report as well. Most of us heard about the fake news issue that erupted following the 2016 presidential election — with post-election studies showing that made-up news reports about the campaigns and the candidates were shared more often than factual reports from “mainstream” news outlets. I happened to come across a video where a group of national reporters talked about this very phenomenon — and how to address the mistrust that people have about mainstream media. One of them — Glenn Thrush, Chief Political Correspondent for Politico — said something that surprised me:

“I think the solution is local news,” Thrush said. “I think it is no accident, it is no coincidence that all this is taking place at a time when we have seen an extermination of viable local news outlets. That’s the way you get to know reporters. People trust fact when they can verify it themselves on the ground…when you see a photographer walking up the block taking a picture of the neighbor’s dog.”

The national news business, Thrush said, is “a dehumanized industry.”

I believe he’s right. I know that I meet many of our readers at various community meetings or other events, and they often say hello and share their appreciation for the work we do. And while we may not be covering presidential elections or national controversies, all of us who gather the news are doing the best that we can to cover the most important corner of the world, in our eyes:  our community, our residents, our accomplishments and — occasionally — our failings and tragedies.

When I speak to those students Friday morning, I will tell them that I am very proud of the work that I — and those who work with me — do and the difference that we make.

But — and there is always that “but “– I will add a cautionary tale. As Politico’s Glenn Thrush said, journalism must continue to connect with its community. That means encouraging our readers to support our efforts, not just with words of encouragement, but with money.

Advertising plays a key role our survival and we value all of the businesses who support us.

But it isn’t enough.

Several months ago, I had a goal of 500 people stepping forward with voluntary subscriptions. While we aren’t there yet, we are making progress, with more than 300 subscriptions received so far.

If you value the work we do in our community, if you appreciate that we sit through city council meetings and school board meetings and sift through police reports and make public records requests and take photos in the bitter cold and the pouring rain — will you support us?

As a reminder, through Dec. 31, 2016, we are donating 10 percent of annual subscriptions of $10 a month or more to our local food banks.

Have you subscribed yet? You can do so here.

Until next time,

Teresa Wippel, Publisher

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