A week ago, I returned home from a whirlwind trip to Nashville, Tenn. — this year’s location for the annual gathering of Local Independent Online News publishers. I sit on the national board of this organization, which has more than 200 members in the U.S. and internationally.
It’s no surprise that our acronym — and our mascot — is LION. Lions are associated with pride courage, and strength — all attributes necessary to survive in today’s uncertain world of journalism, where newspapers are shrinking or disappearing altogether. Online news organizations have their own set of challenges, with fierce competition from tech giants like Facebook and Google that suck up the majority of digital advertising dollars. In fact, Facebook and Google bring in more advertising revenue than ad revenue from all U.S. newspapers combined!
(As an aside, in doing research for this column, I was surprised to learn that lions — like news organizations — are also disappearing. According to wildtomorrowfund.org, in the last 21 years the lion population has plummeted by an estimated 43%. Today, lions are extinct in 26 African countries and there are an estimated 30,000 wild lions remaining.)
Those of you who read this occasional column from me know that I am passionate about figuring out how to make online news sustainable — for several reasons.
First, I sincerely believe that journalism is the cornerstone of our democracy, ensuring that citizens can learn about the actions of their local government and participate in the decision-making process. Some people have been sharply critical of journalism organizations these days, and it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of an unbiased new source that represents all viewpoints, as we are often surrounded in our comfortable social media bubbles by like-minded individuals.
Second, it is key to journalism’s survival that we offer a path forward for those young people considering a journalism career. How do we ensure that those who decide to pursue this work — so critical to our way of life — can make a living doing it?
Third, I would argue that the current funding model for journalism is not sustainable. One of the speakers in Nashville called it “an accident of history” that journalism — a key function of our democracy — is funded through advertising revenue. This has become increasingly evident as the internet has stripped away the past “cash cows” of the news business, from classified ads to Sunday real estate sections.
Let me be clear. I am grateful to our advertisers. They do pay — excuse the ongoing analogy — the lion’s share of our expenses. We couldn’t publish today without them. But advertising revenue alone isn’t enough to fund a sustainable news organization — one that can pay a true living wage to our editorial and support staff. One that can allow for investing in continued growth. One that can serve the community long term.
That’s why I believe that the future of local journalism rests on increasing reader-based support. You pay for your morning coffee. You pay for your monthly haircut or manicure. You pay for your oil change. Gathering and producing the news costs money, and someone needs to pay for that too.
That is why I have continued to ask the readers of our three online news communities in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace to consider a monthly contribution to support our work. We have recently revamped our online support system to make it both easy and secure for you to do that — using a credit card of your choice. Or you can mail us a regular or one-time paper check, which many readers do. Learn more about either option here.
Finally, unlike the often-disparaged “blogs” of years ago, be assured that professionally gathered online news is here to stay. The economics of producing and distributing a print publication are difficult at best. The changing demographics indicate that most people are getting their news online. What we do here is not a hobby or a whim. As publisher of the My Neighborhood News Network of publications covering South Snohomish County, I can assure you that we are in it for the long haul. My Edmonds News and MLTnews were founded 10 years ago. Lynnwood Today was started nearly nine years ago. We pride ourselves on being professional, fair, honest and reputable. We acknowledge and correct our mistakes. We always strive to do better.
In short, I believe that 11 years in, we deserve the support of our community. I hope that you agree — and will support us today.
With sincere appreciation,
Teresa Wippel, Publisher