On April 12, Ken Robinson, co-publisher and managing editor of the Westside Seattle newspaper, made a plea to readers. “Newspaper companies that use ‘newsprint’ all face the same dilemma. Those companies are all scrambling to cut costs and increase revenue from a website,” he wrote. “If you appreciate the print newspaper, and our near century of service to the community we would certainly welcome your help.” He included a link to a GoFundMe site. Donors committed less than $4,000 out of $20,000 sought.
The Robinson family has published the paper for decades. They are a family with ink in their veins, and a passion for keeping their neighbors informed about what’s happening. They covered the stories that mattered but were not big enough for regional television and daily print media. We thank them for making Seattle a better place to live and for helping readers stay informed and connected to their communities.
Years ago, the Robinson family had an entire chain of spunky suburban and neighborhood newspapers. They employed hundreds of people. Now, a skeleton crew keeps the digital lights on.
Westside Seattle’s print edition became unsustainable, finally pushed over the edge by a pandemic that hit the news media especially hard. In just the past year, dozens of newspapers nationwide, most of them small weeklies and community papers like Westside Seattle, have closed. They are part of a longer trend that has seen about 1,800 newspapers disappear since 2004.
Elected officials’ indifference and monopolistic abuse at the hands of tech giants doomed the free press in those communities. A news vacuum remains in far too many communities and states, and rarely can a digital platform fill it well.
Washington’s congressional delegation is a bright exception. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Sunnyside, is a lead sponsor on a bipartisan bill to help struggling news organizations. H.R. 7640 would provide tax credits to local news organizations. That lifeline would help employ more journalists and cover more local news. Most of the state’s delegation has signed on as co-sponsors. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell also is immersed in finding solutions to the journalism crisis.
Their work, while incomplete, has helped raise awareness to the need for Congress to act.
Newspapers like Westside Seattle hold the information that empowers residents to engage in civic discourse and participate fully in democracy. They tell the stories that enrich a community. Time is running out to save them.