We need newspapers, more than ever
By Jean Godden
Ask journalists why they do the job they do and you'll hear many different reasons. As a longtime reporter and columnist, my own excuse is because I was always searching for answers. I can't help wanting to know "why."
When studying journalism, I learned about the five W's and the one H. Reporters must supply a story's essentials: the who, what, where, when, why and sometimes how. The good ones know they not only need to answer those questions, they also need to report truthfully and factually.
Today, to our great misfortune, good journalists and good newspapers that publish their stories are becoming more and more rare. There is no way to sugar coat a bitter pill: The news about the news is dismal.
The bad news comes in ever-increasing jolts. In February, we learned that McClatchy, the second largest U. S. newspaper chain was filing for bankruptcy. Among the chain's 30 daily newspapers are the Tacoma News Tribune, Bellingham Herald and the Olympian. Taking over the chain is Chatham Asset Management, a New York hedge fund that (among other properties) owns the National Enquirer.
That shocker was followed by word that the Los Angeles Times, which also owns the San Diego Union and several community papers, is offering buy-outs to employees who have worked there two years or more. The voluntary buyouts come just two year after a biotech billionaire, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, swooped into buy the company and (maybe) turn its fortunes around.
That news comes on top of realization that roughly a quarter of the newspapers in the United States -- most of them weeklies -- have shut down since 2004. More than 50 percent of newspaper jobs have been eliminated. Within this country, there are vast news deserts -- 225 counties do not have a local newspaper.
The free press has been taking a beating. There are the profit-hungry hedge funds that have taken over many papers. They're intent on acquiring, cutting costs and selling. Meanwhile, the press, which has lost much ad revenue to on-line outlets, must contend with Trumpites who yell "fake news" when they hear any inconvenient truth.
In these perilous times, it is imperative that democracy-loving citizens support a free, independent press, not just national newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, but papers at all levels. In Seattle, readers are lucky to have the strong, locally-owned Seattle Times. The city can be equally proud of its locally-owned small presses. Take as an example this publication, Westside Seattle, owned by the Robinson family, publisher of four community newspapers from Ballard through West Seattle, White Center, Highline and Des Moines. (And, no, Ken Robinson didn't ask me to say that.)
Independent local publications are the fundamental blocks of journalism. That's where those with a passion for community thrives. (Think of alternative publications like The Stranger, Real Change and even on-line only outlets like Crosscut, Capitol Hill Seattle and PostAlley.)
Those who care about truth, honesty and liberty can do no better than read, subscribe and support news and news writers. Good, honest reporting doesn't come free. It relies on hard work of trained professionals. Become part of the action: buy and read a real newspaper.
There is a reason freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution. There is a reason it matters that people in power be held to account, their decisions examined through thoughtful reporting. In this nation, we value freedom of conscience, of speech and of assembly and all of them would be lost should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.