The value of a local newspaper is never more apparent than during an election year.
In late 2018, the Pleasanton Weekly and its sister publication, DanvilleSanRamon.com, hosted four candidate forums, reported on the campaigns, held interviews and wrote dozens of endorsements, and covered the results from the time the polls closed until the official results were in over a week later.
We continued our normal coverage of city council and school board meetings, crime, deaths, court cases and spent hours requesting public records in incidents that the public questioned, like the drowning of a high school freshman in Danville or the death of a Pleasanton man in police custody.
This is journalism. It's not sexy clickbait like speculating on which movie star is getting married or who posted what on social media, nor is it mindless entertainment like cat videos. It is a necessary service to the public -- an essential commodity, like water, schools and fire protection. But journalism is not a public service in the dictionary definition of the term because it is not provided or funded by a government or its agencies, for good (and obvious) reasons.
Some people seem to look at news as a public service because it's readily available. "Free" news, like what you find on Google, is not really free. It is Google aggregating stories produced by news organizations that employ journalists; Google reaps the revenue from advertisers and the news organizations pay the journalists.
There's no news flash here: Traditional news organizations are struggling financially and the first place many go to cut costs is the newsroom. This, in turn, is becoming costly to the public as this deficit leaves public agencies and local governments under-examined.
The number of journalists has decreased in double-digit percentages in the past decade. According to Occupational Employment Statistics data, nationwide there were 58,170 reporters in 2007. In 2017, there were 44,480, a decline of 23.5% In California, there were 6,210 reporters in 2007, and 3,960 in 2017, a drop of 36.2%.
The number of public relations positions, however, increased during that time period. Now in the U.S. there are 5.25 public relations specialists for each reporter; in California the ratio is 6.8 to 1.
So, in other words, in California there are seven people distributing information that reflects the subject matter in only a positive light, to the one person with the job to question and counter the claims in that information.
In 2012, Pew Research Center analyzed sources for presidential candidate information for that year's election and reported a "sharp rise in the influence of partisan voices, spin doctors and surrogates in shaping what the public is told about the biography and the character of the candidates," which the center's analysts connected to the "diminishing reportorial resources in newsrooms."
During the presidential race of 2016, the deteriorating state of media became more noticeable as credible organizations, weakened by years of newsroom layoffs, gave way to increased use by the public of unprofessional news sources such as hyper-partisan sites and stations and social media. Misinformation proliferated without ceasing.
The Tri-Valley's municipal elections of 2018 served as a local wake-up call about the importance of professional community journalists.
The social media platform NextDoor was used in the San Ramon race to launch smear campaigns against candidates who had little ability to counter the falsehoods with accurate information.
Also during the election, a local publication spent a huge amount of time and money creating "news" that reflected only one side of the argument -- the side the publication's owner wanted people to know.
Both are examples of why professional journalism is so important on a local level.
News organizations like the Pleasanton Weekly are small businesses, with payroll, rent and utility bills like any other business. We have two sources of revenue: advertising and support from readers.
Support from readers comes in a few different forms. For example, readers can acknowledge our advertisers by mentioning they saw the ads in the Pleasanton Weekly or on PleasantonWeekly.com and by patronizing those businesses.
There is also our Support Local Journalism program.
A paid membership subscription, starting at $5 per month, entitles members to delivery of our weekly printed newspaper and unlimited 24/7 access to all our online content and archives. Subscribers are invited to members-only events, privy to "insider" information and eligible to claim tickets to the Alameda County Fair, the new movie theater in San Ramon, The Lot, and other special events and venues. Learn more at www.pleasantonweekly.com/join.
As we start the new year, I encourage you to reflect on the impact of local journalism in your life.
Then please consider supporting us so we can maintain a strong news organization.