Brenda Mann Harrison

Brenda Mann Harrison

Going after local news stories isn’t easy

A family discussion about journalism elicits a confession

I was sitting around a kitchen table last week with a couple of family members I hadn’t seen in a while when I was asked about the work I do. I explained that I have the honor of raising awareness about the important role The Daily Herald plays in our community and encouraging philanthropic support for its valuable public-service journalism.

That’s when my relatives confessed. Both of them had canceled their subscriptions to their local newspapers. One stopped subscribing because they didn’t agree with their local newspaper’s opinion pieces. (That’s a topic for another conversation.)

The other ended their subscription because the paper stopped covering one of their favorite beats. I asked if they knew why, suggesting that maybe the newspaper had to make difficult decisions about what they could cover because of limited resources. My family member’s response indicated they still expected their newspaper to do it all.

While local newspapers may sometimes seem like they have the super powers to report on everything, even with smaller staffs, (check out Tom Burke’s column from January 18 that includes a long list of The Daily Herald’s community coverage), the reality is they can’t do it all — or even like they used to.

Leaders of three local news sources in Snohomish County got together early in January to talk about the challenges and changes in reporting local news with Karen Crowley, host of Magazine on the Air, a monthly radio program produced by the League of Women Voters in Snohomish County in partnership with KSER community radio. The panel discussion included Rudi Alcott, publisher of The Daily Herald, Michael Whitney, editor of the Snohomish County Tribune, and Teresa Wippel, publisher of My Edmonds News, MLTnews.com and LynnwoodToday.com.

The news leaders talked about the importance of being part of the community, commiserated about the difficulty finding staff, and shared what they were doing to keep the business going. The focus of their discussion centered around “The Decline of Local News and its Impact on Democracy,” a two-year study recently completed by the League of Women Voters of Washington.

Although The Herald, the Snohomish County Tribune and the three digital-only news services cover their own niche in different ways, they each share a mission to deliver good, local journalism.

“It’s true that the journalism community itself always has a common goal,” Whitney said. “It is a public service that we offer.”

That public service is crucial for keeping communities informed, connected and engaged and reducing partisanship.

“We’ve seen a lot of negative opinions from people over the last several years about journalism,” Wippel said. “I think that it’s easy to do that nationally. It’s harder to do it locally if you know who the reporters are and you know who the photographers are and you’re local because you live in the community.”

But being local isn’t easy.

“We’re going out after the news that’s the hardest to find — it’s what is going on locally,” Alcott said.

Whitney, Wippel, and Alcott are determined to find solutions to the problems they face today and the new ones they will have to tackle tomorrow. My hope is that my distant relatives — and others who expect local newspapers to deliver and do everything they used to do years ago — will continue to support their local news through the changes rather than quit on them.

After all, it’s not just a journalism problem that communities will grapple with if local newspapers struggle or disappear, according to the study by the League of Women Voters of Washington, it’s a democracy problem. You can find the Magazine on the Air podcast about The Decline of Local News and its Impact on Democracy at lwvsnoho.org.

Thank you

We are grateful to all of you who support The Herald with your readership, subscriptions, advertising, news tips, letters to the editor, feedback, and generous donations to our community-supported journalism funds.

Brenda Mann Harrison is the journalism development director for The Daily Herald. To learn more about the impact of local news and how you can join others in supporting community journalism, go to www.heraldnet.com/local-news-impact, send an email to brenda.harrison@heraldnet.com or call 425-339-3452. The Daily Herald maintains editorial control over content produced through community-funded initiatives.

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