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Trying to meet you halfway as we cover the local news
The impression I consistently get from people is that they want news and information, but are unwilling to pay money for the service.
When we ask them to pay for it, they ask why we can't make money off advertising, why they should pay for a service that they can get for free from the Internet.
A man called in recently to ask me if I knew anything about state funding for public schools, specifically Highline Community College. He said that someone had written a story regarding the funding and wanted to know more about whether Highline was going to get federal funding from a recent state bill.
When I told him that I was new to the position, and that not only was I unaware of the bill, but Highline was out of my coverage area, he seemed hurt.
"How could someone who is a reporter not know about this?" the tone of his voice said.
Unfortunately, I am one of only two reporters for the Kent School District, excluding Green River Community College and satellite programs. Kathy Smith, of the Covington Reporter, and I split coverage among Kent's high schools.
This idea that the news media are opportunistic vultures who don't care about content isn't new, but it comes from a misunderstanding that small newspapers have the manpower to produce multiple in-depth stories about serious issues in the community and don't. I remember being contacted about a story and asking if we had an "intern" to throw it to.
That gave us all a laugh.
But there are things that people who don't pay for their news don't understand. The first is that if you aren't paying for it, you are the product. And, like other newspapers, our newspaper operates on a small newsroom with a limited budget.
Understaffing also limits a newsroom's ability to place the news in context, which is why newspapers exist in the first place. Yes, you can listen to sound bites on CNN or see the latest cat meme about current issues on Facebook, but storytelling – to paraphrase Milton Bates – exists to place these events in greater context away from the emotional turbulence of their immediate surroundings.
"Meaning depends on relation, the relation of one event to another in a sequential or causal chain," Bates wrote in his forward to Reporting Vietnam, a collection of news clips during the war. That's what journalists exist to do.
In a world of sound bites – six-second Vines and 140-character Tweets – journalists help connect ideas to the greater context of society, culture and history.
If you won't pay for some kind of news product, you can't complain when you see watered down coverage of news and events. I'm just one person trying to write and shoot several different stories a week, and do so in an impartial manner. When I want to do a feature on a bigger issue like the conflict of developing the North Park neighborhood, I can't ask someone else to cover my beats or pick up my stories. I have to do that in my off time.
We're trying to meet you halfway, but we're having a hard time going it alone without some kind of investment from the public. We want to give you great content, but without the manpower to do so, we're trying to survive.
Reach staff writer Ross Coyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6600, ext. 5056.