PUBLISHER'S OPINION

What have we learned in a year

as we launched a new, independent local news organization for Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater

Posted

As many say lately, it's been a year.  In the case of The JOLT, it's been our first year. 

What have we learned? 

People around here care about

  • trees,
  • crime,
  • whom to vote for,
  • riots,
  • saving the planet,
  • schools and districts,
  • homeless camps,
  • homeless people,
  • their own houses,
  • gardening,
  • construction projects in their backyards,
  • what their city council’s doing (or not doing),  
  • unsavory political candidates,
  • non-profit organizations doing good things,
  • kids starting their own businesses,
  • stuff to get involved with,
  • the pandemic and
  • sports. 

Not necessarily in that order.  These are pretty much the things we promised you we’d cover when we launched on May 18, 2020. We’ve covered all of these topics, most of them several times each.

What else have we learned?

Homeless camps aren’t going away soon, because there aren’t enough places for people experiencing homelessness to go and because laws that would preclude camping on public land have been suspended by court order.

There is no common will to both ensure that there are both sufficient shelters for people and that preexisting laws that would prevent them are enforced.

Drug use is behind a high percentage of crime in this area. There are hundreds of people who are addicted to methamphetamine and heroin as well as new synthetic drugs that are far more quickly and strongly addicting, specifically fentanyl.

People here love our parks.

What I’ve learned about editing news

Difficult choices about what stories to cover and what details to present come up every couple days. We have no compunction about running stories about people accused of DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics). The same goes for stories like the one about a 31-year-old man allegedly beating up his 17-year-old girlfriend. Other stories, about domestic violence, lewd public behavior, he-said/she-said and others challenge us to report extremely carefully.

Even when we think we’ve checked our sources twice and followed proper procedures, we have, on occasion, made missteps or plain errors. Today I received a phone call from a woman whose name we mentioned as a suspect in a crime that took place on Boulevard Road. Turns out, she’s been a victim of identity fraud. Her name should not have appeared. In this and every instance in which we err, we update the story with corrections and label the story as updated.

Many people don’t distinguish between national news and local news.

Many people don’t like to read or watch local news – either because they can’t be bothered or because they are among a minority that distrusts all news, national and local. Across the country over the past couple of years, various studies have established that more people trust local news organizations than national news organizations. Here’s one.

Another reason some here are disinterested in The JOLT (or other professional local news) is that they don’t distinguish between social media posts and reporter-researched news stories written to journalistic standards.

Some adults here actively avoid what they think of as “news” – they don’t want to read anything “negative” and walk away when offered The JOLT.

Some things are better left unseen

For many around here, local news is somewhat like city departments of public works, mortuary services, food inspectors or math teachers: Most people are relieved to know that such work is being done — but they don’t want to pay attention to the details.

News as a Buffet

The buffet analogy fits hand-in-hand with words from our mission statement:

The JOLT nourishes our civic lives by publishing news and features that help people here to get involved in issues and activities they are about. 

Who eats everything at a buffet?  Just a few.  Most of us find the few things we like and put them on our plate. It’s the same with local news. No one is interested in everything on that long list, above.

It’s not safe

It’s not entirely safe to be a journalist here. There are people in Olympia who disagree with the idea that public events are fair topics to be covered in news reporting. There are people here who have threatened the lives of local journalists. Neither I nor any of our news staff has been threatened, but I’ve been challenged, in public, about legitimate reporting work, including at an event last Saturday.

There are business owners in downtown Olympia who are afraid of being quoted about their own shops, for fear of what people who live on the street might do to them, either personally, to their glass picture windows or something else.

Police stories

There are a few cranky police officers here. But they are a small minority. The vast majority of encounters that we’ve had personally have been very positive and reflect that police officers and sheriff’s deputies continue in their chosen profession because they enjoy serving the public -- and that they’re getting good training. Several stories lately demonstrate that the four main policing agencies here appear to work well together, sometimes like basketball players passing the ball, as they coordinate responses across invisible borders that separate their jurisdictions.

A dog helps

My dog, Krusty, has been a patient sounding board and office companion. I can’t say this definitively, but I believe every newsroom would benefit from the steady optimism and relaxed demeanor of the right dog.

It’s expensive

Finally, we’ve learned that it costs money to create local news.  Reporters and editors gotta eat.  So do publishing-side people, who work with our advertisers and sponsors and ensure that our technologies work.

Our budget goal for the coming year is triple what we spent in the past 52 weeks. The plan will cover salaries for another editor, two reporters, our news researchers and the technologies we employ to bring you the news. (And me.)

I’m very grateful for the financial support of our Charter Sponsors, whose organization names are below, and for the 64 individuals who have contributed their hard-earned money to The JOLT. Without their support, we would have been out of business in November, after only seven months.  

If you have any comments or questions – or if you think your business or organization might want to become one of our newsroom partners – please contact me.

Danny Stusser – danny@theJOLTnews.com or 360-357-1000 – is the founder and interim editor of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater.

Thank you again to our Charter Sponsors

Foundation Level  -- Nisqually Indian Tribe

Gold Level  --  Holistic Home Group

Bronze Level  -- Tom Kuhlmann State Farm   -  The Brown Agency -  The Pet Works  -   Washington Orthopaedic  Center

Supporters  -- Academy of Aesthetic Arts  -  Berryman Inc.  -  Classy Canine Country Club  -  Express Employment Professionals  -  PC Technologies  -  Rejuvenate IV Hydration & Wellness Center

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Paul

Amazing start Danny! Journalism is so tough right now. Thurston County needs you!

Thursday, June 3