News

Editorial: The value of community journalism

 

When Investigation Discovery (ID) television network wanted to do a documentary-style program about the 2008 murder of Pleasanton couple Ernest Scherer Jr. and Charlene Abendroth, they contacted the local newspaper.

The Pleasanton Weekly journalists covered the case from the discovery of the bodies through the sentencing of their murderer -- their son Ernest Scherer III -- three years later.

Because of the existence of the paper and the constancy of leadership, we were able to provide credible information and historical context to the "Gambling With Death" episode on ID's "Married With Secrets" series.

A lot has changed since 2008, in Pleasanton, in the newspaper industry and at the Pleasanton Weekly.

In 2008, our division had two newspapers, four websites, twice as much office space and three times the staff. Technology, though, has disrupted the business models for media and its main source of revenue: local businesses. As more people shop online, local businesses -- like the ones that support the Pleasanton Weekly through advertising -- don't have money to spend on advertising. Lack of advertising contributes to further declines in their sales, and a vicious cycle ensues.

Technology has also disrupted media, namely newspapers, by moving more information online and changing the news cycle from daily or weekly to 24/7. Journalists work as much or more than a decade ago with fewer people in the newsroom and more demand for timeliness in a 24/7 news cycle.

Online advertising doesn't cost as much for advertisers as print, contributing to newspapers making about a third of what they used to a decade ago. When revenue declines, staffing levels decrease, and a vicious cycle ensues.

Moving content online also allows it to be "aggregated" by other companies. Google, for example, has built a successful business model taking and redistributing news produced by traditional sources who pay the journalists that produce the content. Businesses then pay Google to advertise on these news pages, cutting out the "middle man," which happens to be the media group paying the journalists. (Google representatives claim this practice helps media organizations!)

Why does any of this matter? The financial woes of the news industry affects everyone, regardless of whether they read a newspaper or get their news online. Whether it be informing and educating residents, watching out for the public good through watchdog journalism, recording local history or providing a public forum for debate and ideas, community news has value.

Having a media outlet covering your community -- especially a group with history and a stake in the community, local ownership and professional award-winning journalists -- is not a right.

For example, five communities near Bakersfield lost their local news sources this week when a family-owned media company in operation since 1939 closed its doors. Any time a source of quality local news is lost, it is a huge blow to the community for myriad reasons.

David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who created and produced HBO's series "The Wire," is quoted as saying, "It costs money to do good journalism."

Simon furthered that we can't replace professional journalism with posts by residents that look and sound like news. "The internet does froth and commentary very well, but you don't meet many internet reporters down at the courthouse," he said.

Earlier this year, some Tri-Valley residents were taken in by a man who was hell-bent on harming a local winery and event venue for reasons unknown, or getting a lot of publicity for a local taco truck for reasons unknown. He posted information that sounded authoritative and a lot like reporting. His posts sounded credible enough that the Pleasanton Weekly staff took a lot of heat for not doing what other media groups did and just printing what he claimed verbatim.

Instead, our journalists asked questions and eventually discredited many of the man's assertions.

Amateur reporters, online commenters and news satire shows like "Last Week Tonight" do serve a purpose. However, trained journalists are still necessary to ferret out news, be the watchdogs and quash "fake news." A balance is imperative.

As Simon said, though, "The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore Zoning Board hearing is the day that I will be confident that we've actually reached some sort of equilibrium. There's no glory in that kind of journalism, but that is the bedrock of what keeps (corruption at bay)."

More and more publishers are looking to those who benefit from their services to help keep community journalism alive. You can help your local paper by patronizing our advertisers and telling them where you saw their ad, or by joining our Support Local Journalism membership program.

There is a price to be paid for quality journalism, and a price to be paid for the lack of it.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by EARL WHETSTONE
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2017 at 10:56 am

PLEASE TELL US HOW WE CAN HELP TO KEEP YOU ON LINE/IN BUSINESS FOR US. THANKS.


10 people like this
Posted by Gina Channell, Pleasanton Weekly Publisher
a resident of Downtown
on Dec 29, 2017 at 11:32 am

Gina Channell, Pleasanton Weekly Publisher is a registered user.

Hi Earl,
We're doing OK and not going anywhere in the near future, but it gets more difficult every year.
You can help by patronizing our advertisers and telling them you saw their ad on PleasantonWeekly.com or in the Pleasanton Weekly print edition.
You can also become a member, which gives you unlimited access to the website, free delivery of the paper if you live in Pleasanton, tickets to events and other perks.
PleasantonWeekly.com/circulation
Thank you for reading, commenting and, most of all, for caring.


1 person likes this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 1, 2018 at 6:16 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

I have been getting my news on line for several years, along with listening to the radio while I am on the road, and the radio when I am at my desk writing reports.

This past year, the online news is so interrupted with pop up adds and just junk stuff generally, I immediately navigate out. These past two holiday weeks, I set down in front of the television for evening news, and was blasted with infomercials.

Given the above experience, I would welcome back the morning newspaper with my coffee and donut each morning. I will provide the coffee and donut, someone provide the newspaper.


1 person likes this
Posted by DKHSK
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Jan 3, 2018 at 8:17 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

Right here in Tim's latest blog is a subject that is perfect for a small town news organization to investigate: Web Link

How is it that a local government can be SO incompetent, yet not have a paper investigate said incompetence?

Perhaps the reason newspapers are failing is that they have stopped doing investigative reporting, censuring descriptions of perpetrators, and basically been a reporting arm of a political party or politician?

The stories that can actually make a difference are right there in front of you and your profession. Yet instead of un-biased reportage, you've (and I don't necessarily mean you or PW) decided to take a side.

Go ahead and read the NYT or WAPO or any other large city/regional paper and see for yourself.

Dan


4 people like this
Posted by Gina Channell, Publisher
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 3, 2018 at 8:47 am

Gina Channell, Publisher is a registered user.

Hi DKHSK, we would love to do more investigative journalism and dig into issues like the one in Tim’s blog. Why don’t we? Limited resources.
This is the point of the editorial.... The Pleasanton Weekly is a small business and, in addition to paying rent and PG&E, we pay journalists like Tim. Our editorial staff consists of three full-time employees and a handful of freelancers. We cover 5 communities.

To give this a bit of perspective, I ran a division of the Chicago Sun-Times in Illinois and the division covered 12 communities with papers and websites very similar to the Pleasanton Weekly and its online sister publications. There were roughly 75 journalists dedicated to those papers at the time (late 1990s / early 2000s) and we could employ them because the business model kept a steady stream of revenue coming in.

Yes, we need the investigative journalism for exactly the reasons you pointed out. We also need to fund the journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Gina Channell, Publisher
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 3, 2018 at 9:13 am

Gina Channell, Publisher is a registered user.

A bit more perspective: we had a publication in Dublin about the same time this issue began. The community did not support it financially and we had to cease publication. The same thing happened in Danville.

This might have had a different outcome if journalists been covering it and the public was well informed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Community reporting
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2018 at 12:56 pm

The East Bay Times and Independent are consistently reporting Pleasanton news that the Pleasanton Weekly seems to miss completely. For example, there has been absolutely nothing about the police officer that the burglary suspect hit by a car recently in the Pleasanton Weekly, i.e. Web Link

The article makes references that real journalists go to the Zoning Board and the courthouse. I would agree that with that in that most small town newspapers monitor the police radio band, go to the Regional Water Board and town and county Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings, and the courthouse.

The only time I've consistently seen the Pleasanton Weekly reporters are at Rotary club meetings, Chamber of Commerce gatherings and at the Economic Vitality commission meeting.

But I don't believe that the Pleasanton Weekly engages in this type of community reporting. I have never seen a Pleasanton Weekly reporter at the Regional Water Board meetings. I didn't even see them at the ones in 2013 that resulted in the Attorney General actions in reference to the James Tong criminal case. I've never seen any Pleasanton Weekly reporter at the East County Zoning Board, ever.

I seriously doubt that the Pleasanton Weekly monitors the police radio band. Perhaps they monitor the police Facebook or Nextdoor postings on social media, which most people can access easily. If they did monitor the police radio band, they would have immediately reported on the injured police officer.

My observation is that The Independent has less staff than the Pleasanton Weekly, but seems to be able to cover Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton in more depth than the Pleasanton Weekly, have much more detailed articles, and far more articles in each issue. Also, their reporters seems to be at the Regional Water Board meetings, the East County Zoning Board meetings, etc. and all of those meetings that the Pleasanton Weekly seems to pass over.

My observation is also that I have never seen an investigative reporting piece or any piece critical of a commercial business in the Pleasanton Weekly publication. Even when Direct Buy was located in Hacienda Business Park, scamming local residents by the hundreds, I never saw anything critical about what what was occurring in the newspaper.


Like this comment
Posted by Factchecker
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2018 at 1:01 pm

The weekly has had a reporter at zone 7 meetings at least when water rate increases were being discussed.


Like this comment
Posted by Community reporting
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Speaking of Zone 7, the East Bay Times and NBC News in early March covered the erosion of the arroyos causing the back yards of Pleasanton residents to fall into the arroyo days before the Pleasanton Weekly had any articles on it. The East Bay Times and NBC News covered that Breaking News story with much more speed than the Pleasanton Weekly.

The Regional Water Board is different from Zone 7, and I would be surprised if the Pleasanton Weekly has any idea what the Regional Water Board is. I do not know if any Pleasanton Weekly reporter or staff member or editor has any experience whatsoever in covering various actions of government entities within a city (state, local, Federal, special districts). I would be completely surprised if they get mailed any of the agendas. If they did or looked them up online, how could they have possibly miss this in 2013?

Web Link


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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