[The following is my brief synopsis of the message today from the publisher of the Seattle Times; quotes from it are within quotation marks. MRM]
Frank A. Blethen, “From the publisher: A year-end message on saving our country’s local free press system,” Seattle Times, 26 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/inside-the-times/from-the-publisher-a-year-end-message-on-saving-our-countrys-local-free-press-system/
Also available as “Saving Our Country’s Local Free Press System,” Seattle Times, Print, 26 Dec. 2021, A8 & A9.
In his message, Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen provides an “update on the remarkable progress of the ‘Save the Local Free Press’ movement.” Such progress is critically necessary given the decimation of newsrooms in the last decade (“44,000 local newsrooms jobs lost in the last 10 years”). This decimation has led to many towns and cities no longer having local reporting (a situation known as a “news desert”) or having newspapers that are hollow shells of what they once were (“entities known as ghost newspapers”).
[My comment: It’s reporters on the ground who know the local territory, people, and issues—and it’s those reporters who do the interviewing, researching, and fact-based reporting that creates our irreplaceable local news. That’s why it’s important to have well-staffed newsrooms that can accurately and thoroughly cover the many facets of our communities.]
Despite hits taken by newspapers, local newspapers [print and digital] are still “regarded as the most trusted and news information source by a majority of Americans,” and it’s local newspapers that “produce more local reporting than TV, radio, and online outlets combined.”
As Blethen notes, when we don’t have “strong local newspaper stewardship,” [as opposed to “absentee-owned ghost papers”], and when we don’t have “strong local content,” then fake news and misinformation flourishes. This situation has contributed significantly to the “worst civil discord and deepest societal fault lines since Civil War Times.”
Blethen points out that “our Founding Fathers created the local free press system as the essential platform for our democratic experiment,” for they knew that “a democracy could not develop without the ubiquitous availability of news and a literate citizenry.” Consequently, they created the First Amendment, created the U.S. Post Office, subsidized publisher’s distribution costs, and invested heavily in public education.
Key Actions that Blethen says are needed to save our local free press—and hence, our democracy—are
1. “Rebuild local newspaper newsrooms.”
2. “Replace absentee financial mercenaries” (the far-away owners who scavenge a newspaper’s financial assets and leave newsrooms emaciated).
3. “Rebuild local stewardships” (he lists several ways to do this, as you’ll see from his article).
He also stresses that Google’s and Facebook’s digital advertising monopolies must be ended and that these companies must pay for the newspaper content they use.
Per this article, these Washington State representatives have engaged to save our local free press: Sen. Maria Cantwell, Senator Patty Murray, Congressman Dan Newhouse, Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. McMorris Rogers, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, and former Rep. Dave Reichert.
Recent legislation to save the free press:
Community Newspaper Act (Sen. Patty Murray was responsible for the passage of this act)
Local Journalism Sustainability Act (Sen. Maria Cantwell has been key to the development of this proposed legislation).
Blethen says that “the critical steps to “restoring our vibrant and trusted newspaper system and saving our democracy are
– Pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act’
– Develop a permanent subsidy to replace the lost postal subsidy our founders created.
– Severely limit absentee newspaper ownership in the future.
– Break up Big Tech marketplace abuse and monopolistic practices.
– Hold Big Tech accountable for fake news, misinformation, and irresponsible social media.
– Create incentives for new local stewardships to replace the absentee short-term investors.”
Some recent local-free-press articles from the Seattle Times:
21.12.20 Andre Stepankowsky (retired city editor of The Daily News in Longview), “Stop letting newspapers fall prey to vulture capitalists,” Seattle Times, Print, 19 Dec. 2021, D2; Web, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/stop-letting-newspapers-fall-prey-to-vulture-capitalists/
21-12-16 Margaret Sullivan, “Vulture capitalists are circling my old newspaper,” Seattle Times, 16 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/vulture-capitalists-are-circling-my-old-newspaper/
21-12-08 Brier Dudley, “Biden Democracy Summit highlights saving press,” Seattle Times, 8 Dec. 2021, https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/biden-democracy-summit-highlights-saving-press/