News

Editorial: The value of community journalism

 

When Investigation Discovery (ID) television network wanted to do a documentary-style program about the 2008 murder of Pleasanton couple Ernest Scherer Jr. and Charlene Abendroth, they contacted the local newspaper.

The Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com journalists covered the case from the discovery of the bodies through the sentencing of their murderer -- their son Ernest Scherer III -- three years later.

Because of the existence of the paper and the constancy of leadership, we were able to provide credible information and historical context to the "Gambling With Death" episode on ID's "Married With Secrets" series.

A lot has changed since 2008, in Pleasanton, in the newspaper industry and at the Pleasanton Weekly.

In 2008, our division had two newspapers, including the old Danville Weekly, four websites, twice as much office space and three times the staff. Technology, though, has disrupted the business models for media and its main source of revenue: local businesses. As more people shop online, local businesses -- like the ones that support the Pleasanton Weekly through advertising -- don't have money to spend on advertising. Lack of advertising contributes to further declines in their sales, and a vicious cycle ensues.

Technology has also disrupted media, namely newspapers, by moving more information online and changing the news cycle from daily or weekly to 24/7. Journalists work as much or more than a decade ago with fewer people in the newsroom and more demand for timeliness in a 24/7 news cycle.

Online advertising doesn't cost as much for advertisers as print, contributing to newspapers making about a third of what they used to a decade ago. When revenue declines, staffing levels decrease, and a vicious cycle ensues.

Moving content online also allows it to be "aggregated" by other companies. Google, for example, has built a successful business model taking and redistributing news produced by traditional sources who pay the journalists that produce the content. Businesses then pay Google to advertise on these news pages, cutting out the "middle man," which happens to be the media group paying the journalists. (Google representatives claim this practice helps media organizations!)

Why does any of this matter? The financial woes of the news industry affects everyone, regardless of whether they read a newspaper or get their news online. Whether it be informing and educating residents, watching out for the public good through watchdog journalism, recording local history or providing a public forum for debate and ideas, community news has value.

Having a media outlet covering your community -- especially a group with history and a stake in the community, local ownership and professional award-winning journalists -- is not a right.

For example, five communities near Bakersfield lost their local news sources this week when a family-owned media company in operation since 1939 closed its doors. Any time a source of quality local news is lost, it is a huge blow to the community for myriad reasons.

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created and produced HBO's series "The Wire," is quoted as saying, "It costs money to do good journalism."

Simon furthered that we can't replace professional journalism with posts by residents that look and sound like news. "The internet does froth and commentary very well, but you don't meet many internet reporters down at the courthouse," he said.

Earlier this year, some Tri-Valley residents were taken in by a man who was hell-bent on harming a local winery and event venue for reasons unknown, or getting a lot of publicity for a local taco truck for reasons unknown. He posted information that sounded authoritative and a lot like reporting. His posts sounded credible enough that the Pleasanton Weekly staff took a lot of heat for not doing what other media groups did and just printing what he claimed verbatim.

Instead, our journalists asked questions and eventually discredited many of the man's assertions.

Amateur reporters, online commenters and news satire shows like "Last Week Tonight" do serve a purpose. However, trained journalists are still necessary to ferret out news, be the watchdogs and quash "fake news." A balance is imperative.

As Simon said, though, "The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore Zoning Board hearing is the day that I will be confident that we've actually reached some sort of equilibrium. There's no glory in that kind of journalism, but that is the bedrock of what keeps (corruption at bay)."

More and more publishers are looking to those who benefit from their services to help keep community journalism alive. You can help your local paper by patronizing our advertisers and telling them where you saw their ad, or by joining our Support Local Journalism membership program.

There is a price to be paid for quality journalism, and a price to be paid for the lack of it.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Tom T
a resident of Danville
on Dec 29, 2017 at 8:40 am

I think one aspect of the newspapers decline in general is they really do not market to close to 50% of the national population. Most papers lean left and it is very clear to see in their editorial pages. Trying to sell we the people that this does not influence the rest of the paper will not fly. I have lived here for decades and do not have any need for the paper. I have moved on like so many others. If you paid me a quarter to take it I would still not.


Like this comment
Posted by Gina Channell-Allen
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 29, 2017 at 11:10 am

Gina Channell-Allen is a registered user.

Hi Tom T,
It's about the journalism more than a newspaper. The newspaper itself was the funding mechanism for journalism for decades; now we need to find a different way to pay for journalism.
Thank you for reading and commenting.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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