To anyone who follows the news, it would appear the industry itself is under attack. Whether claims of “fake news” leveled by the president or cuts to already lean newsrooms, newspapers and media organizations are now in the rare position of making headlines.
The most recent round of layoffs at the Denver Post led to that paper’s editorial board publishing a rebuke of its hedge-fund ownership, which on Sunday, April 8 became a page 1, above-the-fold story in The New York Times. The Post’s editorial, which ran under the headline, “News matters; Colorado should demand the newspaper it deserves,” was courageous and serves as a rallying cry for journalists around the country and in our own state who fear for the future of their profession. And more importantly fear for the future of our democracy if the newsroom cuts the industry has seen over the past quarter century – when one every four positions disappeared – continue.
News organizations now find themselves thrust squarely in the middle of a public debate over the value of news and the role newspapers play in the communities they serve. It’s a conversation that every newspaper needs to have with its readers, community leaders, its supporters and detractors; and the Colorado Press Association wants to be the catalyst behind that public dialogue.
That’s why the CPA, in partnership with the Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado Media Alliance, is sponsoring the first-ever Colorado Journalism Week April 16 to 22. The purpose is to celebrate and honor the hard work and ideals of Colorado’s working press and to shed light on what is perhaps the most significant challenge our news organizations have ever faced.
The power of community newspapers, whether publications that are monthly, weekly, daily or online only, is often best demonstrated when journalists hold our public officials accountable and demand that government business be conducted openly and transparently. According to industry research, about 85 percent of what could be called “accountability journalism” is produced by newspapers.
In turn, news organizations must hold themselves accountable to standards of fairness, objectivity and accuracy to earn and retain the trust of readers. Especially in the era of “fake news,” it’s critically important for journalists to be above reproach.
In addition to fulfilling that watchdog role, newspapers also serve their communities when they publish stories that would go untold unless reporters pursued them — stories that shed light on compelling issues such as drug addiction, poverty and crime, stories that provide readers with information about how their taxes are being spent or how a bill in the state legislature will affect their healthcare options.
And then there are those human-centered stories that reveal the fabric of our communities — stories about the independent business owner who is working hard to keep the doors of his store open as more and more customers are lured to shop online; the teenager born to an immigrant family who overcomes great odds to earn a full-ride college scholarship; the cancer survivor who sets out to climb every 14er in Colorado.
This list of stories simply highlights the content journalists produce every day in communities across Colorado — communities lucky enough to still be served by a local newspaper. And the question I find myself asking, especially during a week that is dedicated to Colorado’s working press, is this: If not for local journalists, who would be writing these stories?
It’s a question that reinforces the value of community journalism. Newspapers exist to inform and educate citizens about what’s occurring in their local communities, and on our best days, the stories we tell ignite change and spark public debate.
This week, we honor the people behind the bylines — the journalists who work tirelessly to uncover the truth and report on it because it’s what they do and what they do matters — as well as the copy editors and photographers and videographers whose collective work is seen in every edition of our newspapers.
So when you read this column and find yourself feeling grateful for your community newspaper, send the publisher, the editor or your favorite reporter an email thanking them for what they do. More importantly, you can also show your support for journalism by reading the paper each day, paying for a subscription, taking out a classified ad and supporting the advertisers who recognize the newspaper as the best means for generating commerce in local communities. News is not free, but it’s worth every penny.
Lisa Schlichtman is editor of the Steamboat Pilot & Today and president of the Colorado Press Association board of directors.