Local Journalism is Essential for an Informed Community and Healthy Democracy
The Daily Herald’s public service mission holds those in power accountable and uplifts diverse voices.
BY BRENDA MANN HARRISON
The Daily Herald, the award-winning local newspaper serving Snohomish County, began with a commitment to strong journalistic values. The paper’s first editorial on Feb. 11, 1901, declared
“There is in this community no one so poor or insignificant that The Herald will not defend him if he be wronged, no one so high and powerful that the Herald will not fearlessly attack him if he seek to do injustice.”
The Daily Herald of today upholds those fundamental values.
Executive Editor Phil O’Connor says, “I’m extremely proud of the role we play in giving a voice to the voiceless and lifting up our community. It is our highest calling and the core of our public service mission.”
One of the Herald’s most important roles – and a core responsibility of the press – is serving as the community watchdog. It’s a time-intensive and expensive undertaking. Reporters and editors can spend months on a single story to surface the information that citizens in a democracy deserve to know. Such reporting exposes injustice and can provoke reform that benefits a community. It can also impact readers and those who are part of the stories in a profound way.
THE IMPACT OF LOCAL JOURNALISM
In response to Herald reporter Isabella Breda’s investigation about Native American boarding schools, “Tulalip’s Stolen Children,” Toni Silicio sent a voice message to Isabella saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so compelling in my life.”
After the Herald published a story about the threat of dike failure along Skagit Bay near Stanwood, we heard from Ken Goetsch, who alerted three commissioners for Island County. Ken said, “It appears that your article is a wake up call for many of us who live on Camano Island … You do a great service to the community with coverage like this.”
MOST TRUSTED AND MOST THREATENED
The Daily Herald’s locally focused journalism is the type of local news Americans hold in higher regard than national news, according to a new poll from Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Americans also say local news, compared with other sources of local information, does the best job of keeping them informed, holding leaders accountable and amplifying stories in their communities.
Although local journalism is trusted and valued, the local news industry is being decimated across the country. This is due both to the rapid proliferation of online news content as well as unfair market practices by some of the world’s largest technology companies that reuse local news’ content, data, customers, and advertisers, according to Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened, a comprehensive report prepared in 2020 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows that between 2008 and 2020, more than 2,100 newspapers across the country shut their doors, newspaper revenue dropped more than 70% and surviving newsrooms lost 26% or more of their workforce.
The drastic reduction in the journalism workforce has taken a heavy toll, making it challenging to cover all the news that a community needs to know. According to the Local Journalism report, it is important to keep in mind that journalism is a skill that requires commitment and extensive training. Local journalists have the expertise to sort through reports to determine what is real, what is fake, and what matters most to the communities served.
WHO SHOULD CARE?
If you value the benefits local journalism brings to your community, you should be concerned about how difficult it is to keep local newspapers viable.
Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post, puts it bluntly,
“The demise of local news poses the kind of danger to our democracy that should have alarm sirens screeching across the land.”
Studies show a loss in local news leads to declines in civic engagement, voting rates and contested elected races and increases polarization and government costs as a result of lack of scrutiny.
Each dollar spent on local news brings hundreds in public benefits to communities, according to Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of investigative Journalism, a book by economist James T. Hamilton. That’s one of the reasons why philanthropists are working with fact-based newsrooms nationwide, including the Seattle Times, Sacramento Bee, New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the New York Times-and locally with The Daily Herald. These partnerships strengthen democracy and support public wellbeing.
ADD YOUR SUPPORT TODAY
To expand local reporting that meets community needs, The Daily Herald established three journalism funds:
Environmental and Climate
The Education Project
These journalism funds, in partnership with a nonprofit fiscal sponsor, empower individuals, businesses, organizations and foundations to invest in trusted, local news with a tax-deductible donation.
More than 2,500 donations have been made to the Herald’s funds. They range from $5 to $50,000 and come from all over Snohomish County and beyond. Those who give understand local journalism is essential for healthy communities, competitive marketplaces, and a thriving democracy.
Roger Ellis made a donation because “Investigative Journalism is very important to make democracy work. We, the public, need you [The Daily Herald] to inform us of activities good and bad that are occurring in our community.”
John Thielke, a long-time Herald subscriber gave to the Investigative Journalism Fund because “I have been reading biographies of several founders of the United States, including Washington and Madison. It is interesting how important it was at that time for the new government to support newspapers such that freedom of the press protections are built into the Constitution and special postal rates were established to encourage wide dissemination of the news. We only wish that more people today would begin to realize the danger of losing this important source of information.”
You can learn more – and invest in local journalism today- at heraldnet.com/local-news-impact.
Brenda Mann Harrison is the journalism development director for The Daily Herald. You can reach her at email@example.com or 425-339-3452.