May 5, 2020

Today on #GivingTuesdayNow we humbly urge you to consider a gift to support the journalists in your community working tirelessly and at personal risk to help you navigate the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. We are grateful for their skill in providing useful, reliable information about all aspects of the pandemic in these times of confusion and social stress. We need them to continue to tell the stories of the sick, the dying, the health care heroes and those working to move us forward. The value of this journalism is immense.

Your dollars, if you can swing it, are deeply appreciated, particularly given the economic pressures faced by local news companies.

But how about something even better? Don’t just give. Engage.

Buy a subscription to your local news website or newspaper. Become a sustaining member of the local public radio or television station, or your favorite nonprofit news website. If you have the option to patronize an advertiser who spends money with a local news source, please consider. You know what’s better than journalism supporters? Customers.

When the audience has skin in the game, there is an implicit compact with the journalists that together we can help improve a community. Such engagement runs deeper than just the money. We’ve long said journalism helps us participate in democracy.

When the coronavirus hit, local news organizations were already at-risk with “underlying health conditions.” The fragmentation and even evaporation of advertising revenue long before the pandemic forced significant retrenchment and left the local news industry with an uncertain future.

With revenue in freefall, publishers were forced to significantly cut costs, including news coverage, while asking the audience to pay more for the product. That’s a hard balancing act, for sure.

A byproduct of the tension has been an unhealthy indifference. According to a study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 86% of Americans believe in the value of local news, yet only 20%paid for a subscription or membership to a local news organization. Even those who say they value journalism are becoming bystanders, and in the process settling for a weak sauce of coverage, at times, from their preferred local news source.

The Knight study found more than 60% of Americans believe their community news sources aren’t doing enough to keep an eye on local officials. They want more coverage of education, drug addiction and housing.

A report last year by the nonprofit education news site Chalkbeat said there were no full-time education beat writers in locales as big and complicated as Newark or throughout the communities of Silicon Valley. Might not more paying customers demand better?

Today’s newsroom leaders have a deeply difficult task in covering their communities with substantially fewer journalists than before. But how the remaining resources do get deployed is a choice.

Combine your patronage with engagement — write letters, leave comments, attend events, call in story tips — and you become part of the equation in making the choices mean the most for your community.

The coverage of coronavirus by local journalists has struck a blow against indifference. Today we recognize the exceptional energy, relevance and sophistication that journalists have brought to the crisis and its consequences. Every member of a local news company is serving their community.

The Poynter Institute has chronicled much of this inspiring journalism, as well as the economic struggles that organizations face. You can find that coverage here. It may serve as a tip sheet as you contemplate who to support. You can also find a local news outlet worthy of your support on this list from The New York Times.

Poynter’s faculty members are training journalists in the field, and helping them cope with stress and ethics issues. Our online training resources page is here, or you can create custom learning for your team here.

Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) organized a worldwide alliance of fact-checkers that have produced a database with more than 4,000 debunked false claims here. We’re also fighting misinformation on and through MediaWise, our media literacy project.

Today’s Giving campaign and the important movement to bolster support of journalism through grants and philanthropy is about continuing the vital pandemic coverage — but also staking a future for journalism well beyond. We are grateful for the work of journalists now. Can we recommit to value it beyond the crisis?

Last year, long before “social distancing” and “you’re on mute” were part of our daily conversation, Steve Lopez, the brilliant metro columnist for the Los Angeles Times, continued his relentless work to shine a light — and find solutions — on the heartbreaking and infuriating homelessness situation in LA. In 2019, nearly 700 homeless people died on the streets and reckless dumping of garbage by businesses was creating a health crisis and abuse of the homeless. (Lopez was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his columns).

The compact between Lopez and his readers is clear. He marshaled the forces of his audience to improve his community:

Get your camera or phone and send me photos of eyesores in your neighborhood or near your place of employment. Include the address, and I’ll take a look at as many as I can get to, publicize the filth and count the days until City Hall cleans it up.

If we don’t take charge, who will?

An enduring theme of American journalism is that it helps move us off the sidelines, get involved, demand action. In these confusing times of crisis, it’s useful to remember that journalism is part of the democracy toolkit, and we need not feel powerless.

So with your financial support today, please consider the gift of engagement.

Neil Brown is the President of the Poynter Institute, and a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Neil Brown is the president of The Poynter Institute. He joined Poynter in September 2017, after serving as the editor and vice president of the…
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