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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • I've been a journalist for more than 23 years,

  • at the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,"

  • the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review"

  • and most recently, "The Denver Post."

  • (Applause)

  • When I started at "The Denver Post" in 2003,

  • it was among the country's 10 largest newspapers,

  • with an impressive subscriber base

  • and nearly 300 journalists.

  • At the time, I was in my 30s.

  • Any ambitious journalist that age

  • aspires to work for one of the big national papers,

  • like "The New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal."

  • But I was simply blown away

  • by my first few weeks at "The Denver Post,"

  • and I thought, "This is going to be my paper.

  • I can make a career right here."

  • Well, seven years passed,

  • we were sold to a hedge fund,

  • Alden Global Capital.

  • Within a few years --

  • (Laughs)

  • (Laughter)

  • Some of you know this story.

  • (Laughter)

  • Within a few years,

  • buyouts ordered by past and present owners

  • would reduce the newsroom by nearly half.

  • And I understood.

  • The rule of thumb used to be that 80 percent of a newspaper's revenue

  • came from pricy print ads and classifieds.

  • With emerging giants like Google and Facebook and Craigslist,

  • those advertizing dollars were evaporating.

  • The entire industry was undergoing a massive shift from print to digital.

  • Alden's orders were to be digital first.

  • Take advantage of blogs, video and social media.

  • They said that one day,

  • the money we made online would make up for the money we lost in print.

  • But that day never came.

  • In 2013, we won a Pulitzer Prize

  • for covering the Aurora theater shooting.

  • Alden ordered that more journalists be cut.

  • Again,

  • and again,

  • and again,

  • and again.

  • We were forced to say goodbye to talented, hardworking journalists

  • we considered not just friends

  • but family.

  • Those of us left behind were stretched impossibly thin,

  • covering multiple beats and writing rushed articles.

  • Inside a windowless meeting room in March of 2018,

  • we learned that 30 more would have to go.

  • This paper that once had 300 journalists

  • would now have 70.

  • And it didn't make sense.

  • Here, we'd won multiple Pulitzer Prizes.

  • We shifted our focus from print to digital,

  • we hit ambitious targets

  • and email from the brass talked up the Post's profit margins,

  • which industry experts pegged at nearly 20 percent.

  • So if our company was so successful and so profitable,

  • why was our newsroom getting so much smaller and smaller?

  • I knew that what was happening in Colorado was happening around the country.

  • Since 2004,

  • nearly 1,800 newsrooms have closed.

  • You've heard of food deserts.

  • These are news deserts.

  • They are communities, often entire counties,

  • with little to zero news coverage whatsoever.

  • Making matters worse,

  • many papers have become ghost ships,

  • pretending to sail with a newsroom

  • but really just wrapping ads around filler copy.

  • More and more newsrooms are being sold off to companies like Alden.

  • And in that meeting,

  • their intentions couldn't have been clearer.

  • Harvest what you can,

  • throw away what's left.

  • So, working in secret with a team of eight writers,

  • we prepared a special Sunday Perspective section

  • on the importance of local news.

  • (Laughter)

  • The Denver rebellion launched like a missile,

  • and went off like a hydrogen bomb.

  • [In An Extraordinary Act Of Defiance,

  • Denver Post Urges Its Owner To Sell The Paper]

  • ['Denver Post' Editorial Board Publicly Calls Out Paper's Owner]

  • [On The Denver Post, vultures and superheroes]

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Clearly, we weren't alone in our outrage.

  • But as expected, I was forced to resign.

  • (Laughter)

  • And a year later, nothing's changed.

  • "The Denver Post" is but a few lone journalists

  • doing their admirable best in this husk of a once-great paper.

  • Now, at least some of you are thinking to yourself,

  • "So what?"

  • Right?

  • So what?

  • Let this dying industry die.

  • And I kind of get that.

  • For one thing, the local news has been in decline for so long

  • that many of you may not even remember

  • what it's like to have a great local paper.

  • Maybe you've seen "Spotlight" or "The Paper,"

  • movies that romanticize what journalism used to be.

  • Well, I'm not here to be romantic or nostalgic.

  • I'm here to warn you that when local news dies,

  • so does our democracy.

  • And that should concern you --

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • And that should concern you,

  • regardless of whether you subscribe.

  • Here's why.

  • A democracy is a government of the people.

  • People are the ultimate source of power and authority.

  • A great local newsroom acts like a mirror.

  • Its journalists see the community and reflect it back.

  • That information is empowering.

  • Seeing, knowing, understanding --

  • this is how good decisions are made.

  • When you have a great local paper,

  • you have journalists sitting in on every city council meeting.

  • Listening in to state house and senate hearings.

  • Those important but, let's face it,

  • sometimes devastatingly boring committee hearings.

  • (Laughter)

  • Journalists discover the flaws and ill-conceived measures

  • and those bills fail, because the public was well-informed.

  • Readers go to the polls

  • and they know the pros and cons behind every ballot measure,

  • because journalists did the heavy lifting for them.

  • Even better,

  • researchers have found that reading a local paper

  • can mobilize 13 percent of nonvoters to vote.

  • Thirteen percent.

  • (Applause)

  • That's the number that can change the outcome of many elections.

  • When you don't have a great local paper,

  • voters are left stranded at the polls,

  • confused,

  • trying to make their best guess based on a paragraph of legalese.

  • Flawed measures pass.

  • Well-conceived but highly technical measures fail.

  • Voters become more partisan.

  • Recently in Colorado, our governor's race

  • had more candidates than anyone can remember.

  • In years past,

  • journalists would have thoroughly vetted,

  • scrutinized, fact-checked, profiled, debated

  • every contender in the local paper.

  • "The Denver Post" did its best.

  • But in the place of past levels of rigorous reporting and research,

  • the public is increasingly left to interpret

  • dog-and-pony-show stump speeches and clever campaign ads

  • for themselves.

  • With advertizing costing what it does,

  • electability comes down to money.

  • So by the end of the primaries,

  • the only candidates left standing were the wealthiest

  • and best-funded.

  • Many experienced and praise-worthy candidates

  • never got oxygen,

  • because when local news declines,

  • even big-ticket races become pay-to-play.

  • Is it any surprise that our new governor

  • was the candidate worth more than 300 million dollars?

  • Or that billionaire businessmen like Donald Trump and Howard Schultz

  • can seize the political stage?

  • I don't think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind

  • when they talked about free and fair elections.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Now this is exactly why we can't just rely on the big national papers,

  • like "The Journal" and "The Times" and "The Post."

  • Those are tremendous papers,

  • and we need them now, my God, more than ever before.

  • But there is no world in which they could cover

  • every election in every county in the country.

  • No.

  • The newsroom best equipped to cover your local election

  • ought to be your local newsroom.

  • If you're lucky and still have one.

  • When election day is over,

  • a great local paper is still there, waiting like a watchdog.

  • When they're being watched,

  • politicians have less power,

  • police do right by the public,

  • even massive corporations are on their best behavior.

  • This mechanism that for generations has helped inform and guide us

  • no longer functions the way it used to.

  • You know intimately what the poisoned national discourse feels like,

  • what a mockery of reasoned debate it has become.

  • This is what happens when local newsrooms shutter

  • and communities across the country go unwatched and unseen.

  • Until we recognize that the decline of local news

  • has serious consequences for our society,

  • this situation will not improve.

  • A properly staffed local newsroom isn't profitable,

  • and in this age of Google and Facebook,

  • it's not going to be.

  • If newspapers are vital to our democracy,

  • then we should fund them like they're vital to our democracy.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • We cannot stand by and let our watchdogs be put down.

  • We can't let more communities vanish into darkness.

  • It is time to debate a public funding option

  • before the fourth estate disappears,

  • and with it, our grand democratic experiment.

  • We need much more than a rebellion.

  • It is time for a revolution.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause and cheers)

Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

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When local news dies, so does democracy | Chuck Plunkett

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/04/06
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