Newsrooms feel a tug-of-war for their souls
You probably know I am talking about Jeff Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post, whose parent company owned this newspaper for 35 years until its sale to Sound Publishing in March.
As the Post's new owner, Bezos quickly offered assurances that the newspaper's "values" would not change. Trust me, this message was aimed squarely at the newsroom staffers and their colleagues throughout the business. Reporters and editors esteem the Post as a paragon of watchdog journalism, exemplified by its coverage of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers.
Look at the Post through different lenses, however, and its image morphs.
I know Post subscribers who view it, variously, as a newspaper obsessed with politics and the Washington Redskins, blessed with a clever arts and lifestyle section, a tad indifferent to local news, and tilting leftward on its editorial page.
Techies consider the Post a dinosaur that has failed to meet its digital challenges. (Now traditionalists are edgy and Silicon Valley is eager to see how Amazon's founder will transform a "legacy product" into something that grows and innovates.)
According to business blogger Henry Blodget, the financial world damns The Post as a company that missed the boat -- letting readership, revenues and, most importantly, profits wither.
Of all these concerns, however, the first thing Bezos addressed was the question of "values."
Toiling at journalism means pursuing sources, dodging smokescreens, verifying facts and, often, writing complex stories one fragmentary chapter at a time. Most reporters and editors are driven by "values" -- although I'd prefer to say "soul." It's the heartfelt certainty that our work matters. It really, really matters.
In March, the Herald experienced what The Washington Post is going through -- a change in ownership and all the accompanying doubts. And five months later, I can report that our soul is intact.
The Herald is not a national newspaper. It is not obsessed with federal politics or world affairs. It is obsessed with Snohomish County.
A key to community coverage is sampling a range of voices -- newsmakers, activists, experts and ordinary folks. So, I'm pleased that our newspaper is enlarging its editorial board, the in-house panel that confers with newsmakers and concerned citizens, helping Opinion editor Peter Jackson fill his page with informed points of view.
Under the Washington Post's ownership, the roles of executive editor and Opinion page editor at the Herald were walled off from one another. It was as if I was blissfully unaware of the opinions expressed on Jackson's page -- and Jackson, himself, was a lonely island, ignored by colleagues in the newsroom.
We've changed that. I'll be part of the editorial board starting next week.
The Herald's future depends on our listening to this community. We think it's good for our soul.
Neal Pattison is executive editor of the Daily Herald. Send him questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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