CLIFF’S EDGE: The topic is preservation of local news media


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I hope Scott Schaefer is reading – or has already read – this along with you and all the others who pay attention to The B-Town Blog.

(Actually, I’m pretty sure he reads each of my weekly rants when I submit them for publication. As founder, publisher and editor of this journalistic enterprise its part of his job.

(Also, as I’ve said so many times in the most somber of tones, “Every writer needs a good editor.” He’s a good one.)

If this column sees the light of day, it will be imperative that he will have read it. He’s part of it, you see.

What I’m attempting to do with this piece is bring all of us – most importantly YOU – to the table together to ponder a subject I consider not only of great importance , but also particularly timely for us in Burien.

The topic is preservation of local news media.

This obviously is not a subject of concern exclusively to our little corner of the world. Throughout the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe, traditional news media are struggling to some degree as they strive to adapt to changing technologies and business models affecting levels of public support.

A result of all this that most concerns me is the threatened loss of local news, the information and opinion on matters that have immediate impact on our lives.

The B-Town Blog and its related online publications in White Center, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Tukwila and Des Moines have dealt with significant local issues in recent months, including education, politics, business, homelessness, crime and so on.

Have those communities benefitted from that media involvement? Certainly, I would say.

Would they have benefitted even more had the issues been covered more consistently and in greater depth. Again, I would say, yes.

But that kind of expansive journalism calls for substantial resources to equip newsrooms, to pay for reporters and editors, and to experiment with and expand audience access to the new technologies these media employ.

The advertising and subscription dollars that used to provide those resources no longer guarantee them under new economic models.

So what to do to restore stability and breathe new life into local news operations?

One approach that surfaces more frequently is that of altering the relationship between you and your news media in a way that would give you a greater voice in what they report and discuss and how they do it.

For example, I recently read an online report from Editor and Publisher magazine, titled “The Membership Puzzle Project.“

It concerns findings of research focusing on a media-membership model.

One example cited is that of a media outlet in Greece “…which regularly invites its members to pitch ideas for investigations and then allows a handful of them to co-report and publish with their editorial team. This model not only gives readers the stories they want but provides a better understanding of the journalistic process so often misunderstood by the general public.”

The article goes on, “while the New York Times is probably not going to undertake something like that with its members, I’m encouraged they have created a reader hub within the newsroom. They are really trying to inspire their staff to be thinking about what matters to their audience and how they can serve them better…I think it behooves all of us to be asking those questions.”

That’s what I’m suggesting to those managing and using The B-Town Blog and its readers and advertisers.

It seems to be that you all would be asking these questions from a position of some strength.

You live in communities experiencing change of some difficulty, but they are communities in which good things also are happening in conjunction with that change.

And, at the same time, The B-Town Blog has reported record numbers of you looking to it for information about those communities.

Its report on the recent reader poll considering restoration of the “comments” section of the blog (some 75 percent wanted it restored in some fashion) indicated a readership ripe for “membership” of some kind with its local media.

What would it look like? I don’t know. But I think the time is ripe to talk about possibilities as we all huddle around this shared local-media table.

Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.

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