A frequent question about The Seattle Times’ initiative to save the free press is very encouraging:
How can we help?
For example, here’s a note I received last month:
My husband and I have watched, with dismay and frustration as the printed P.I. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer] disappeared, and now we watch with increasing anger as the printed Seattle Times, as well as other papers in other cities, slowly bleed and shrink …
So now, after reading other journalists, plus your recent March 21 piece, “David vs. Goliath: Small publisher’s lawyer optimistic,” I ask you what ordinary people like us can do. We want to help sustain the local free press system.
Yes, Michael Fuller and Paul Ferrell have filed an antitrust case against Google and Facebook, and it sounds as if, across the country, there are other cases in the pipeline. But all of this litigation will take time.
Are there organizations that we can contact now, groups that support journalists? Are there specific people that you would suggest we contact?
These messages give me hope that the free press will survive, somehow.
They’re also a reminder that despite all the distrust and frustration with “the media,” more than a few people are deeply concerned about the prospect of losing daily newspapers and other trusted providers of local journalism.
Federal intervention is needed to address unfair competition in the ad marketplace and preserve local news organizations until they find sustainable business models.
But what’s ultimately needed to maintain a system of independent, local news outlets is local support.
For those wanting to help, here are a few suggestions:
Subscribe to your local newspaper, even if you only read articles online or sometimes.
Yes, this is self-interested.
But my pitch is that local papers provide a public service that needs to operate continuously and always be available, like a fire department. They should be there when you want them. The rest of the time, they’re helping you by keeping your community informed and holding your government accountable.
Advertising used to support this service. But now most ad dollars go to tech giants that don’t produce journalism. So newspapers are becoming dependent on subscriptions.
Yes, you can find news all over nowadays. But local papers still provide most substantial, local reporting, according to academic research. Stories appearing elsewhere often originate with newspaper reporting.
Free stuff online can be a mixed bag. To get complete, legitimate and local news, you increasingly need to pay. News outlets are following the path of the recording industry, clamping down on free sharing online and making it easier to just subscribe to a service.
Consider donating to directly support reporting.
As newspapers try to stabilize and develop new business models, they’re getting support from nonprofits and community members. As I wrote in last week’s Voices of the Free Press newsletter, this is becoming a third stream of revenue for some. Many for-profit newspapers are becoming hybrids, supplemented with revenue from local philanthropy and national nonprofits such as Report for America.
The Seattle Times has done this successfully to fund deep coverage of topics such as education and homelessness. It’s now boosting investigative reporting with community donations to its Investigative Journalism Fund, which is handled by Seattle Foundation so they’re tax deductible.
More than 800 people have so far donated $1.38 million to this fund.
One donor is Kari Cantey, director of grants and public information at Highline College in Des Moines.
Cantey told me she doesn’t always have time to read the news but believes “shining a light on what goes on” is important so people understand what’s happening and what’s at stake in our democracy.
“The free press definitely plays a huge role in letting people know what’s going on and if elected officials are aware people are watching, they will act more responsibly,” she said.
Engage with our Free Press initiative.
Consider subscribing to and sharing the initiative’s free weekly newsletter. It’s important for more people to understand what’s at stake and what’s happening to address the local journalism crisis.
Contact members of Congress.
Washington’s U.S. senators and representatives are strong supporters of legislation to sustain the local free press system nationally. Even so, hearing from constituents will help this year as key proposals are introduced and new funding models are considered.
The recently introduced Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would enable news outlets to collectively negotiate content and advertising deals with internet gatekeepers like Google and Facebook. This is especially needed for nonnational papers that don’t have the clout to negotiate fair deals on their own.
Another key bill is the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which had strong bipartisan support last year and needs to be reintroduced this year. It would provide $250 tax credits to people who subscribe to local news organizations. Small businesses would get credits for advertising in local news outlets, and publishers would get credits for hiring journalists.
Lawmakers also need to advance regulatory reforms to address unfair competition with dominant digital platforms and consider longer-term ways to help sustain the local free-press system.
If you’ve read this far, you’re already helping by paying attention to this issue. Thank you for your support.