Some time ago, I was thrilled to be part of the movement that created city weeklies, back when I helped launch Seattle Weekly. Now I'm happily immersed in another transformation, the creation of nonprofit, nonpartisan local websites. As before, there are many similar/dissimilar sites in different cities around the country. Just the other day, friends sent me plans for an exciting new site, if it raises the money, in a city very like Seattle.
These sites share certain traits: online only, locally controlled, only local news (though often in national context), and driven by nonprofit missions of doing journalism for the public good. Many, like Crosscut, have a broad menu of topics and writers. And many, like us, are nonpartisan. Let me explain that last term.
Mainstream daily newspapers used to be firmly nonpartisan, even aspiring to "objectivity," in their news pages. Reporters swallowed their opinions and strived (with varying degrees of success) to play the stories as straight as possible. Opinion or analysis was firmly labeled as such, and usually confined to the editorial pages. This lead to a dullness in tone, as well as suspicion by readers that opinion was being smuggled in.
One reaction is to be overtly opinionated, and to create sites, papers, and cable-tv channels that are stridently partisan. Again, there are degrees. One editor I respect, who runs a labor-backed, environmentally activist site, says he makes it clear to his audience that they are all on one side on these issues, but within that there are vigorous debates and solid reporting. The tone gets more lively, and the audience is made up of fellow believers, an advantage for advertisers.
Crosscut, like other sites, takes a different tack. We have no editorial page, no institutional stance on any issues. We seek out writers who can report, interpret, and sometimes make a cogent argument for one point of view. And then we seek writers who differ, treating them as equally respected family members. The common element is good writing and intelligent argument by people who know what they're talking about. In that sense, we are nonpartisan, or really multipartisan or "polytheistic."
In the coming year, with your help as an annual member, we will be able to expand the spectrum. Two new grants are aimed at finding more "unheard voices," from farther reaches of the region and from points of view not heard enough. We're able to fund a new "community editor," to be named shortly, who will have this express job of finding more diverse writers, adding to the range of debate and expert commentary.
It is often said of the audiences for Web journalism that they want two things above all: good data, and a wider range of interpretation. Web readers are researchers, drawn to the Web by its amazing abilities to archive information, and to search for and access stories from all over the world. Think of this fact, when you despair about journalism's decline: You are now one finger tap away from all the major newspapers of the world. And Web users are independent thinkers, wanting to know the basis of a statement (the genius of links) and to hear (and participate in) a wider debate before making up their own minds. They don't want an editorial page telling them what to think. They want a service that gives them the tools and information to make a smart judgment themselves.
Hence: nonpartisan, but with a lively set of writers who know enough to form some judgments of their own, and enough range in those writers to create a continuous debate and sense of the problematic nature of contemporary life. I agree there are dangerous trends in the Web, particularly the temptation to sort readers into "anger communities," and then to feed their rage until it becomes a lucrative addiction. Crosscut, as the name suggests, goes the other way, cutting across barriers. We believe in "open eyes, open minds, open debate."
As you can understand, this is contrary to commercial pressures, which like tight brand loyalty and no-waste, targeted readerships. And so we rely on additional support from public-interested parties, such as our annual members who want to support this kind of journalism, and foundations who perceive the broad social good of this kind of discourse. (We love our advertisers too!) Please help by becoming an annual member today, or by renewing your membership (hopefully at a higher level).
Those who join today will get free tickets to Teatro ZinZanni, while they last. And you are eligible for a drawing for a free Kindle if you sign up this week or renew your membership at its current or higher level. Please join today.
I very much appreciate your (nonpartisan) vote of confidence.