American Media … The Enemy Within
By Bob Carr
I saw this bumper sticker recently. I may need to carry a Sharpie. I would have added a question mark.
I do not love the term “Media.” There is Corporate “Media” and there is Journalism, which are not, necessarily, the same. For the purpose of the bumper sticker I believe that the driver would disagree with my premise. I can surmise this because I have had discussions in person, and on social media, about this very subject and the two terms/words are muddled into one. I recently heard a statistic that 55% of Americans trust corporations while less than 40% trust media.
Again, that term. It implies news and news implies journalism but they are distinctly different. A hurricane is news. The reporting on the aftermath of a hurricane – should houses be rebuilt, should infrastructure be reimagined, are insurance claims being honored, what are the public policy choices being considered (what is rebuilt, what is not), without interjected opinion – is journalism.
I am not a journalist. I am a partner in, and a co-founder of, We-Ha.com. We are a hyperlocal news organization that exclusively covers West Hartford, CT. Over the past nine-plus years I have been given the opportunity to get to know numerous journalists. I meet weekly, via Zoom with a cohort of digital news organizations that range from Rhode Island to Washington State. These are primarily bootstrap news outlets filling a void where the local newspapers have been shuttered. There have been more than 2,500 newspapers – approximately 20% of all U.S. newspapers – closed since 2005. In many of the places that still have a local newspaper local stories are rarely covered. The papers are filled with nationally distributed stories, aka ghost newsrooms.
Most, if not all, of these new digital news sites that report on local, or state, issues are run by trained journalists and editors. Many of the journalists I talk with, that run these local news sites, struggle every single month to keep the lights on. Why do they do it? Because, to a person, they are committed to delivering credible, and properly sourced, information so that the public can make informed decisions. Many journalists could make a very nice living working in public relations or advertising. Yet they choose to struggle financially because they understand that what they do, as journalists, is necessary for the public good.
I sit on the board of a nonprofit news organization and the executive director was only paid for 30 hours a week while working more than 40. She was doing freelance work to support her “nonprofit news habit.” We, as a board, have since corrected that particular issue. Plus, we provided raises to staff. The end result is we need to double our fundraising efforts to meet the higher salaries and benefits. If we can’t we will need to lay off staff. That is the conundrum for so many small news organizations. If they pay a reasonable wage, even by journalist standards, there is a real possibility of layoffs or closing.
Here in West Hartford, Ronni Newton is underpaid for the work she does. I know because I write the checks. Most of the ownership of We-Ha.com receive minimal compensation for our work and we all, other than Ronni, make a living doing something else. We-Ha.com is in the fortunate position to have a working relationship with TurleyCT, publisher of West Hartford LIFE among other titles. Through a handshake arrangement Ronni is compensated to be the editor of West Hartford LIFE in collaboration with We-Ha.com.
I would ask that our readers, if they like an article in a publication that asks for a contribution, please make the contribution. Start local and independent. Local news has been decimated by the loss of ad revenue which has led directly to many being purchased, and gutted, by private equity firms or publicly-traded news companies. One of the exceptions to this statement is the Hearst Corporation, which locally, is a direct competitor of We-Ha.com. Hearst is a privately-held corporation that, over the past several years, has managed to invest in its multiple newsprint properties.
We are very fortunate in Connecticut to have 20 or so local, daily newspapers. We have dailies in all of our major cities, and some minor cities. Connecticut readers also support a variety of weekly and monthly newspapers that report on local happenings and local government. I still buy local papers. I travel frequently and I will buy the local paper, wherever I am, to get a feel for the local news and how it is covered. In Connecticut I am fond of the Waterbury Republican-American, The Meriden Record Journal and the New London Day – all still locally owned and operated. I also regularly read, CTNewsJunkie.com which is a We-Ha.com news partner. CTNewsJunkie does a tremendous job covering the
Connecticut state capital.
Would We-Ha.com welcome your contributions? Absolutely. In order to survive long term, we need to expand our revenue streams. However, my appeal is for our readers to recognize a few dollars for a printed paper, or news magazine, or a contribution for a story you’ve read on the web, one you would not get anywhere else, will go a long way to keeping newsrooms open and doing our most important job – keeping you informed.
Bob Carr is a managing partner of We-Ha.com.
We-Ha.com will accept Op-Ed submissions from members of the community. We reserve the right to edit all submitted content.
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