These are the latest answers to questions readers send us in response to this prompt: “What do you want to know about the local journalism crisis?”
Got a question about the Seattle Times’ efforts to shore up America’s free-press system?
Go to the “Ask the Free Press Editor” link at the bottom of this post. Please use that instead of my email.
Q. “How do I contribute money (or other resources) to your cause, which I consider one vital to the survival of our democracy?”
Free Press Editor: A half-dozen readers have asked some form of the same question.
As it turns out, several have spontaneously sent checks in support of the “Save the Free Press” initiative. Donations will help defray expenses The Times now covers for its efforts to revise federal law and reform federal agencies to remove obstacles to local ownership of American newspapers and force the Big Tech platforms to pay for the journalism that drives profitable traffic on Google and Facebook. Donations can be sent to Save the Free Press Initiative, c/o Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70. Seattle, WA 98111.
Many thanks, by the way. Those pledges of support are a welcome counterpoint to the anonymous troll who wrote to tell me, s/he is cheering not only for the demise of the news media but also for all of us who ply the trade. That was Stalin’s opinion, too.
Another way to support the Save the Free Press initiative’s work is to buy subscriptions to your local paper, whether it is The Times or another. When you do, tell them why. Paid subscriptions put a predictable foundation under newsroom budgets and messages of support, usually shared with the newsroom, help build morale while reporters are scrambling to cover every aspect of the pandemic. Every newspaper has an online subscription site and here’s The Times’ signup.
You can also make direct donations to fund reporting on several specific topics: Education Lab, Project Homeless, or the Investigative Journalism Fund. To learn more, contact Kristi Waite, director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, to make sure I’m not just feathering The Seattle Times’ nest, I encourage “Save the Free Press” supporters to donate to internship funds or projects like Report for America, a donation-supported national service program that places hundreds of early-career journalists in local newsrooms. They build skills and serve the community while they learn to report on under covered issues and communities, which is a good transition into your next question.
Q. “Given the challenges that journalism faces today, how to get younger generations interested in the career, so free press can have a future?”
Free Press Editor: Once-falling enrollments in collegiate journalism programs have turned around, for the most part.
Enrollment in undergraduate journalism and mass communication majors fell sharply — about 16% — from 2010 through 2015, according to studies by the University of Georgia and Texas Tech University. But that changed after the 2016 presidential election. Just as news audiences grew during President Trump’s verbal attacks on media outlets, so too did enrollment at journalism schools.
At Western Washington University, enrollment has been rising in recent years, says journalism department chair Jennifer Keller. “We saw an uptick in those interested in news-editorial journalism (as opposed to visual journalism or PR) right after the 2016 election,” she said in a recent email.
In Pullman, enrollment has held steady and seems to be rising a little, said Bruce Pinkleton, dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, where the Rural Reporting Project’s hands-on reporting experiments are starting to attract student interest.
Even at the University of Washington, where journalism is a small subset of the overall school of communications, there is little reason to worry we’ll run out of fresh journalists anytime soon. “In the past five years we saw a dip in admissions in 2015-16 with a rebound in the following two academic years (2016-17 and 2017-18),” Journalism coordinator Andrea Otáñez wrote in an email response to questions. There was a dip in 2018, but she said UW journalism admissions have rebounded this year, including for the upcoming fall term.
Washington’s not an exception. “The president is making journalism great again,” Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications told the higher education trade publication Insight into Diversity. “We did have a real issue toward the beginning of this decade when we were losing a lot of interest in journalism, but that has ticked back up in the last couple of years. I credit the president of the United States for that.” In the same article, Lucy Dalglish, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said recent years saw a rise in enrollment — from 81 starting freshmen in 2017 to 118 in 2018, though several factors correlate, including her school’s ability to offer more scholarship funding.
Full disclosure: I was a journalism professor at the State University of New York/Stony Brook from 2009-2015 and at Western Washington University in 2019. Maybe I was lucky, but I found plenty of purpose-driven millenial generation journalists. I was talking about it May 21 with Howard Berkes, the retired NPR correspondent from Salt Lake City, who mentors journalists in his spare time and he had the same observation. Neither of us at age 21 could have competed with these amazing diggers entering the profession now.
So long as we elders keep the free press system alive, newsrooms will be in good hands.
If you want to ask a question, please use this Ask the Free Press Editor link instead of my email.