I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for allowing us to be your trusted local news source.
This year has been tough with COVID, the riots, and an extremely contentious election. It’s also a difficult time to own a business. And I can tell you that in seven years of owning the Racine County Eye, this year has been the worst of times and the best of times for us. These news cycles have been intense to produce for our six-person shop. But we earned the trust of more readers this year than in any other, with 1 million readers, 3 million page views, and 11 million impressions. Still, we lost about 80 percent of our revenue.
Today is not the day to focus on that.
2020: The year of change
When I look back at this year, there are some bright spots. My health has become much more important. I now do a lot more yoga and take more walks with our new puppy. I spend more time with Mr. Denise. And we have learned to be creative in how we socialize. We have kayaked more this year with our friends than in any other year. And we have learned the fine art of creating outdoor movie theater showings.
On the journalism side of things, we focused on providing journalism that serves. We helped businesses with our business spotlights, honored our hometown heroes and our educators. But we wanted to do more.
To do that, we needed to lean heavily on people and organizations that believe in journalism.
We sought several grants so that it would take the pressure off of us. We received grants from the Facebook Journalism Project, Google News Initiative, Solutions Journalism Network, Local Media Association, Election SOS, and yes… the City of Racine, Racine Economic Development Corp., and the federal government.
How we pivoted
This strategy helped us develop our pivot plan. We started a Perks program to reward our readers with special deals to help local businesses. We launched our COVID-19 page, which features a data dashboard, state, county, and local information. Knowing that people needed support, we just launched Racine County Speaks, a series about organizations that help.
Why am I telling you this? Because I believe in transparency. The business of journalism is often ignored, and that’s not OK anymore as news media companies across the country continue to struggle. Legacy media — including our competition — have cut staff drastically, furloughed employees, and doubled down on conflict-based journalism. While RCE is not unique in this struggle to survive, I feel like we’ve risen to the challenge head-on, and I’m so grateful to have financial support from all of our funders — the grant-makers, advertisers, and our subscribers. We’ve also been able to maintain our staffing levels.
It’s not enough. And I want to see our news organization grow substantially in 2021.
A different landscape for journalism
Being a journalist has been more challenging this year.
Somehow — in this agree to disagree world — we have lost our passion for understanding a thing before we form opinions about that thing. Some read headlines and can’t be bothered to read stories. And I find myself focused on defending the truth more and more. But it’s something I gladly take on because not doing it has consequences.
What does this look like? When we fail to understand or accept that COVID-19 exists and don’t realize how little infrastructure we have to deal with it, people needlessly die, insurance costs go up, businesses needlessly get disrupted due to having an unhealthy workforce, and they become unstable themselves. When we don’t understand or accept the science of how COVID-19 is spread, we can’t take responsibility for stopping it. And when we don’t understand or accept the consequences of that spread on businesses, employment, our mental health, or our physical health — well, then our lives start to unravel.
And that’s not OK.
This is why the truth is essential and why we struggle with understanding COVID-19, according to Zizi Papacharissi, who wrote The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth.
“We affirm our sense of belonging when the societies we live in reinforce our understanding of truth. We become polarized when this understanding of truth is not shared by all who make up a society. We then fall back into what social scientists call in and out groups to affirm our identity. In plain terms, we find comfort in “us vs. them” ways of understanding the world.
Science is equipped to find, understand, and defend the truth. Scientists are taught to check their own bias in researching the truth. When there are many different truths to be shared and researched, scientists have methods of identifying what they all mean. This is what science does. Science is trained to defend the truth.
Journalists, by contrast, are trained to find the truth. Scientists need the help of journalists to tell truths to the general public. When the link between journalism and science is broken, trust in a society’s truth-telling mechanisms is broken.”
But I digress.
So, in short, yes, this year has been a bumpy ride, and I suspect it’s going to be that way for a while. But today, take a break from that. Enjoy the day, be at peace, and by all means — love your people from a distance. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do.
That’s the present. Merry Christmas!
By the way, we’ll be in strategy sessions the week between Christmass and New Year. So our coverage will be in vacation mode.