By Danny Stusser
Did you know you had a baby?
Of course I’m talking about ShakingThe Journal OF Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater – your community-owned non-profit news organization, your baby.
We published our first news story, about the first of two fires at what was then the Quality Inn in Olympia, on May 20, 2020.
Like most babies, yours isn’t always bright or charming. He needs attention and affection to thrive. Sometimes there’s a little mishap (we made two corrections to articles this week after going several months without needing them).
Like some babies, he arrived unwanted, ignored by most who saw him. But if you look back, The JOLT shouldn’t have been a surprise baby; you could say communities were an empty cradle, expecting a baby of hyper-local news.
Much like most parts of the country, in 2020 local reporting in Thurston County had been significantly reduced. At the top of the old local news game, The Olympian employed some 25 people in its newsroom, and this was the time when the county’s population was about 120,000 less than it is today. Today there are about five people working there on the editorial side (and about three and a half here) – not enough to tell all the stories of an area that is now quite close to 300,000 people, with three cities , a county, a public port, three (or seven) school districts and porous borders between them.
From what I have been able to learn, The JOLT is the first new Daily news service to launch in Thurston County since…since 1860, when The Washington Standard spear. (Please reply to me if you know otherwise.)
Maybe you didn’t want a baby
Polls – I won’t bother to quote them here – indicate that the news media no longer enjoy the trust of a majority of the American public. Between the hyper-partisan orientation of many national television and print media and the accelerating noise in social media, this is not surprising.
But where other surveys distinguish between national news outlets and truly local news outlets – like Shaking – it is clear that many more people trust their local sources of information than national ones. We hope this baby survives long enough to really differentiate itself from national media and become, well, like the unwanted baby who becomes loved.
Not my baby.
Some people who know Shaking think it’s my baby. While it’s true that this reporter/editor/publisher gave birth to this baby (and always stays up late to feed it), we realized early on that our mission was a better fit with that of a non-profit organization. local.
So last fall we created The JOLT News Organization, a non-profit organization, which houses our website and our newsletter, The Daily Shake.
It’s not (just) my baby. Our seven-member board of directors are my bosses. And you, a member of the local community, you own The JOLT News Organization.
What is this baby’s mission?
Glad you asked. Every word of our mission statement was debated and explained by our dedicated board members last fall. It’s a bite. It’s here:
JOLT nurtures civic life
residents of Thurston County
and increases the capacity of the community in
a precise, relevant and entertaining publication
stories that help people become
better informed and more involved
in local issues, events and activities.
“Can a baby save a marriage?
Mother Google offers 229,000,000 answers to this famous question. What it means here is, “Can better and more local news coverage save our local democracy and, by extension, the nation?”
With about 900 hyper-local publishers in the US (about 140 of which are nonprofits), we bet it’s possible.
There is no good substitute for the precise and reliable kind of work of professional journalists. These people are trained to listen to sources, verify facts and clarify the story. Forgive me, but opinions are not the same as facts. Your Facebook friends aren’t sitting in public meetings, summarizing what they learn from reading 96-page engineering documents, interviewing multiple people to strike a balance, or making repeated attempts to speak with potential sources who prefer to remain silent.
Another thing, if you allow for your baby’s second birthday: when it comes to keeping the public fully and accurately informed, there is no substitute for experience.
So-called institutional memory, knowing where things come from, why they’re there, who made them, and who to call for a quick update, helps in good reporting. Just as a long-serving employee, committee member, or elected official can explain to colleagues why something should or shouldn’t be done, experienced journalists with a long lifespan write reliable stories.
But there is the next best thing: research. Do an extra interview, dig into the archives, and even check if we’ve covered a topic in our short existence.
Alright, what does your baby need for his second birthday?
It needs more advertisers and sponsors. (Interested? The number is 360-357-1000. Thank you.)
More editorial contributors. We start looking for:
- Senior Reporter/Associate Editor
- Restaurant reviews from secret writers (the only ongoing content we would consider running without an actual byline)
- A few more columnists (How about a column by a newcomer describing their first experiences here? A column about pets? South Puget Sound Foodie?)
- High school sports journalists
- Columnists (their opinions, not those of The JOLT)
- Event Volunteers
By the way, this baby costs money
And like babies in general, the costs increase as the baby grows and can do more things. Your baby’s caretakers (staff and board) have big dreams for what this local news baby can become.
Oh. One more thing.
We don’t have a party today, sorry. But if you’re the type of person who would never show up for a baby’s birthday without a present in hand, can I make a suggestion?
One dollar for each month of life = $24
A dollar a week would equal $104
A dollar a day of publication would be about $521, but we would certainly be happy to receive a dollar a day’s issue of The Daily JOLT — It would only be $475.
What would really help us become “sustainable” (the biggest buzzword in the local news business) would be a monthly contribution of any amount. This gives us both hope and a way forward.
So if you are still reading this, thank you for caring about your baby. Let’s keep growing it.
On behalf of our columnists and reporters: Prachi, Kathleen, Alexis, Pat (from time to time), Jill, Mary Beth, Julia, Jay (Edwin), JC, George, Tiziana and myself, thank you for read Shaking.
Danny Stusser is the editor of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater and Executive Director of The JOLT News Organization.