The annual Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this week, and as usual, they include examples of exceptional journalism: sexual harassment in major industries, the senate race in Alabama, white supremacists in Virgina and the fires in Sonoma County. But significant stories in other newspapers – of solid but not quite Pulitzer quality – must be missing. Why? Because revenue declines have significantly reduced the size of almost all newsrooms across the country.
Because of an upended economic model, newspapers are struggling to do what they have done well. There may be a proliferation of platforms for short expressions heavy with opinion and shared with many, but the longer stories that take investigative and editing time are less able to be written.
Digital can reach more readers, and is, but reductions in traditional advertising revenues have meant that newspapers are smaller in size and journalists are fewer in number. Smaller newspapers have been merged with larger ones, reduced in size or frequency, or been discontinued. The Durango Herald, The Journal and the Pine River Times have not been immune.
The risk is that some stories that tell of the significant goings-on in communities – the favorable, and the unfavorable that could be improved – are not being told.
Specialized publications cover topics of their choice, but news-of-record newspaper staff attend and report on council, commissioner and school board meetings, planning sessions and business ribbon-cuttings, and they offer organizations a place to introduce their new hires, post events and boast of their successes. Some are aggressive reporting, some are not, but all, along with letters to the editor and opinion columns, are a part of what informs, nurtures and connects a community.
The Denver Post has been in the news because of its editorial board’s very public challenge to the paper’s ownership: Either reduce your profits and return the newsroom to an earlier size or sell the paper to a company that will. What was not said was that because of changing economics, the newspaper’s profits are very likely much lower than they were a decade ago.
This is Colorado Journalism Week, an opportunity to support the journalists who fill the state’s newspapers and the airwaves of the state’s television and radio stations. The companies they work for ask you to subscribe if you do not already, use the classified ads and shop at the advertisers that recognize the value in a paper’s print and digital formats. For all the attention that online shopping receives, studies show that 85 percent or so of sales volume occurs at brick-and-mortar retail locations, many of which are our advertisers.
A strong local news organization has value. Imagine if it were half its size and what would be missing in its coverage of the community. That is a direction we are determined not to take.
The Durango Herald Editorial Board