These are interesting times for journalism. I just got back from a conference sponsored by LION Publishers this weekend. The organization — made up of hundreds of independent news publishers — helped us understand how we can grow our business, serve our readers better, and become more efficient.
I have to say I couldn’t be more optimistic about the local news industry. It also reminded me of how we need to communicate better about what’s going on with our industry and offer ways the community can support us financially.
How can I be so optimistic when corporate media companies continue to lay off reporters, sell off buildings, and shut down printing presses?
Well… media companies that produce newspapers are dying off or merging with other newspaper groups at an alarming rate. Staffing levels are shrinking and that means less local news. But in their place digital news websites like the Racine County Eye are leading the charge for local journalism and producing original content that helps our readers.
Can we be everywhere, all of the time? No. But the Racine County Eye is in a unique position and we are looking to grow our organization over the next year.
Why is a news website a better outlet to support?
The cost of running a news website is substantially less versus being a corporate-owned legacy newspaper. We don’t have to operate printing presses, own buildings, or deliver newspapers. Newspapers are saddled with debt and are often controlled by out of state corporate entities.
The number of newsroom employees at U.S. newspapers declined by 47 percent between 2008 and 2018. But that is not the case at digital news websites. Meanwhile, employment in digital newsrooms increased 82% between 2008 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.
That means dollars spent on locally-owned news websites stay within the community, help us produce more journalism and hire staff.
Why is this important to know?
Newspapers are in this race to the bottom. I have watched it happen for 20 years. And as those newsrooms shrink, local coverage will continue to suffer. But now digital newsrooms are taking up the slack.
Here are a few examples of what we have done over the years:
- Black men speak project
- Ascension Cuts Mental Health Staff, Beds
- We Energies Neighbors continue lodging complaints
- Case dismissed against man wrongfully accused in stabbing
- Eye on Employment
Those stories represent months of work that helped the community understand several issues in a meaningful way. We are working on stories about development, real estate, and crime-less revocations. We tell you which businesses are coming to town, employment opportunities, the weather and road closures.
Another area we plan to cover is sports, which should start over the next few weeks. Still, the public is largely unaware of the financial challenges many newsrooms — including the Racine County Eye — face. And that needs to change because we need to grow.
As a side note, the Racine County Eye won an award for having the best business idea of the year with its Eye on Employment page. We paired employment news, with job listings, sponsored content from employers looking to hire, and training and education resources. We also have a podcast called Help Wanted.
This is an example of how we have taken a different approach to journalism, one that becomes a platform for solutions and not just focusing on the problem.
We need your financial support
When the Racine County Eye started, it was important to keep our news accessible to readers. That’s why we don’t have a paywall. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth supporting financially. So if you are in a position where you can help, I am asking for your financial support.
To be clear, locally owned news websites remain a worthwhile investment to sustain local news coverage. But we need the community to take a more active role to support it.
Here are three ways to help: