Philanthropy may be the key to sustaining local newspapers | Editorial

This week's editorial.

As the pandemic marches on, businesses’ bottom lines are shrinking.

And your local newspapers are no exception.

On Dec. 1, New York Times journalist David Leonhardt wrote a column entitled “A cornerstone of democracy, collapsing,” detailing the struggle of small-town news organizations and advocating for their survival through philanthropy.

“In the internet’s early days, it seemed to have the potential to crush traditional print media. But its impact has turned out to be more nuanced. The internet has instead been a boon for some publications with a national audience. The New York Times has never had as many subscribers or readers — or employed as many journalists — as it does today. The Atlantic, The Washington Post and some others are also thriving. It’s at the local level that the digital revolution has been as destructive as feared,” he wrote. “Hundreds of local news organizations have folded, as their advertising revenue disappears, and the pandemic is exacerbating the crisis. At least 60 local newsrooms have closed since March, according to Poynter. Some of them were more than a century old.”

In the aftermath of those closures, there is an information black hole, leaving communities without any independent news organizations to cover such beats as government or crime. A recent NYT investigation revealed that some partisan groups have started posing as local publishers, passing off political propaganda as news. We find that deeply troubling.

“When a community’s newspaper closes, voter turnout and cross-party voting tend to decline, while political corruption and government waste rise, academic research has found,” writes Leonhardt. “A democracy struggles to function when its citizens can’t stay informed.”

We here at the Sounder, Journal and Weekly — and our parent company Sound Publishing — are continually brainstorming new ways to make our business profitable. And thanks to the financial support of our loyal subscribers and business owners, we’ve been able to do that pretty successfully. However, all of that changed with COVID-19. The revenue we had relied upon for years was suddenly gone, with no warning. We laid-off employees. We cut back the hours of full-time staff. We closed the Weekly on Lopez for nearly three months. While we’ve been able to reinstate some of those cuts (thanks in part to the generosity of community members), each month is a big question mark: will we make enough money to keep going?

According to Leonhardt, “For the foreseeable future, the only reliable answer seems to involve philanthropy. Americans have long accepted that the arts, higher education and organized religion all depend on charitable giving. Local journalism is now in the same category.

This holiday season, many are advocating a shift in focus from online shopping to charitable giving. The Orcas Island Community Foundation is holding its annual GiveOrcas campaign until Dec. 15. View the online catalog at https://oicf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/list/grant.

We also ask that you consider us as you look at ways to give here at home. Our publications are a vital part of these island communities, particularly for those who do not use the Internet on a regular basis.

In good times and bad we’ve been here to provide valuable, reliable information that people have come to expect. Since 1906 — without interruption — our family of community newspapers has covered the triumphs and the heartbreak of this place we call home.

I am asking you to consider us as we endeavor to keep the residents of San Juan County informed during and after this crisis. Any financial support you can offer will go toward achieving this goal.

Place an ad in any of your island newspapers, sign up for a subscription or make a donation by emailing me at csmith@soundpublishing.com. Sponsor a message to the community. Post a picture of your family enjoying time together. Pledge to participate in what makes our community special.

We believe our economies will recover. We are resilient, and we always turn to each other in times of trial. We can come out of this a stronger and more unified community and we can only do that together.