Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic model that for more than a century sustained local journalism was evaporating.
In the past 20 years, the rise of the internet and other factors drew away many of our traditional advertisers. As a result, newsrooms across the country endured cutback after cutback as revenues plummeted. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, 37,900 people worked as reporters, editors, photographers or film and video editors in the newspaper industry in 2018. That is down 14% from 2015 and 47% since 2004, when newsrooms employed about 80,000. The past 15 years saw 2,100 newsrooms close. Then came the pandemic.
Since January, newsrooms have shed another 11,000 jobs and more publications have ceased operations, further enlarging swaths of the country robbed of trusted local news coverage. A 2018 University of North Carolina study found that 1,300 U.S. communities have completely lost news coverage. Many of those which remain are far less robust than they once were.
The Daily Herald has not been immune. Today we have fewer people with less time to do the type of time- and resource-intensive reporting that is critical to serving our watchdog role in the community. Too often, the simple truth is we don’t have nearly the resources we need to accomplish that critical part of our public service mission. And COVID-19, sadly, forced us to shrink our news staff even more as we fought to survive.
The cost is great. The loss of local news sources takes a toll on civic engagement — even on citizens’ ability to have a common sense of reality and facts, the very basis of self-governance. Studies also show municipal borrowing costs go up when local news declines. Why? Because the watchdog isn’t there — and so, local governments become less efficient and more prone to corruption, or at least wasteful spending. We also know that people become less civically engaged when local news declines. They become more partisan: less likely to cross the political aisle to vote for a candidate whose party they don’t belong to. It increases the tribalism that is already such a curse in American politics.
It’s clear that we must seek new ways to help pay for the local independent journalism that plays such a key role in a vibrant community and democracy.
To that end, we have partnered with the Community Foundation of Snohomish County to create an opportunity for individuals, organizations and foundations to make tax-deductible contributions that will be used to support The Daily Herald newsroom. To date, the Herald, with backing from the local community, has created two funds — one whose proceeds will be focused on enhancing our investigative and accountability journalism, the other our environmental and climate change reporting. Our long-term goal with each fund is to raise enough money to create an endowment that would ensure our long-term ability to cover topics of great importance to our readers. Funding a full-time endowed position requires about $550,000.
Launched in April, The Daily Herald Investigative Fund is already halfway to its first-year fundraising goal of $250,000. We’re hoping for similar success with The Daily Herald Environmental and Climate Change Fund, which launched in September.
This is not a silver bullet to save local journalism, but for those who care about our community and the role that journalism plays in Snohomish County, the funds offer a chance to show your support. The direct investment provides you an opportunity to get involved, to make a difference and to help ensure The Daily Herald remains a fair, independent and reliable source for Snohomish County news.
If you believe in the mission of journalism, if you believe in the importance of a vibrant local community, if you believe in a healthy democracy, please consider supporting this endeavor.
How to help:
To donate to either fund go to www.heraldnet.com/donate