Seattle media may be a ‘dumpster fire,’ but it can be saved
Some parting words from our managing editor
by Drew Atkins
With the constant news of layoffs, buy-outs, and publications closing shop, it can sometimes seem like the Seattle news media is our own local contribution to the Great American Dumpster Fire of 2016™. The quantity and quality of coverage seems to be declining, newspapers and weeklies are getting thinner, and online ad dollars aren’t making ends meet. It’s enough to make talented, ambitious writers and editors ask why they’d want to be a part of it.
But there are reasons to be bullish about Seattle journalism right now, and I would like to kick off my argument — somewhat counter-intuitively — by announcing that this will be my last month as managing editor of Crosscut. I’ve had the honor of holding this position for almost two years. It’s been an amazing place to work. And I’m not just saying that because I have to share an office with these people for a few more weeks and would appreciate it if they didn’t publish a tell-all about my antics and indiscretions here.
Rather than leaving the journalism business, I’m departing because I want to get more involved locally, including more writing, researching, interviewing, and generally exploring ideas. And on my way back to the reporter ranks, I’d like to make a pitch to this region’s writers and editors to rethink their approach for 2017 as well. Even with the increasing pressures around producing “content,” the phrase “good enough” needs to become less common in newsrooms, not more.
Quality nonfiction about the Puget Sound has never been more necessary — the writing that digs in, adds context and makes issues and stories connect with readers — and there’s never been more potential for it. This region is going through huge changes, and there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to interesting and important stories to tell. But it’s a fact that there are fewer and fewer reporters working in this region — whether as staffers or freelancers — even as the amount of coverage-worthy material rises.
This needs to change, and it’s going to take some commitment on the part of both the region’s journalists and its readers to switch things up.
For writers and editors, it’s important to remember why we’re in this business in the first place. Almost no one starts in journalism because they think it’s a lucrative and stable career move. We do it because it calls to us. We want to knock out some work we can feel good about, and have it find a good home and readership. And maybe earn enough money to feed our pets, if that isn’t asking too much. With limited media budgets, sometimes it is. What I’m saying is: I miss you, Bowser. You were a good dog.
For readers, it’s important to realize that reporting and thoughtful columns have real value for both you and our community, and deserves some financial support, even when you don’t agree with the writing or feel like its consistently top-notch. You likely read a lot of journalism online, and that’s not because there aren’t more interesting ways to spend your time. There are. There are videos of narwhals out there, after all. They’re basically sea unicorns.
You read journalism because you want to be informed, and maybe exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. For that to continue happening while the business types figure out better funding models, you should consider supporting independent publications like this with a donation, and by subscribing to newspapers. And for the weeklies, I’m not really sure. Send them some pot brownies maybe?
The bottom line is the region needs to find a way to better support reporters and nonfiction writers, and to better encourage new approaches and ideas. Year after year, print reporting is ranked as the worst job in America. It falls below sewage plant operator, advertising salesperson and pest control worker. Let that sink in: Killing cockroaches and being near raw human waste are deemed more satisfying ways to spend one’s days. Reporting would rank among the best jobs out there if pay, career prospects, respect from the community and one’s peers, and “do more with less” newsroom strategies were all out the window. But that’s the reality.
During my time here, I worked to make Crosscut a place where journalists and columnists could do their best work, cover issues and stories the way they felt they should be covered, and be edited thoughtfully. Those will remain the operating principles under editors Greg Hanscom, Joe Copeland, and whoever fills my seat here, and I hope more writers will take advantage of that. I know I will.
It’s a cliched sentiment at this point, but the coming years will shape the next few decades in the Puget Sound region. When things are barely changing, they’re not that interesting. When all is in flux, it’s more important to keep an eye on the ball. Let’s all recommit ourselves to doing so in the new year.
And for those looking for a dynamic, open-minded newsroom to work in, and who would be willing to edit our staff reporter David Kroman (lord knows he needs it), I encourage you to apply for my position. For more details (and an unflattering photo of me), click here.
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