Who is producing The JOLT, anyway?


Today is Democracy Day in the United States.

News organizations across the country launched it to report more and better information about the crisis facing democracy in the United States.

An informed citizenry is a fundamental necessity for a democracy to function, and local news plays an important role in providing such information. Unfortunately, as news outlets have dwindled in recent years, many of our communities have become news deserts. We created The JOLT to fill an important gap regarding civic information needs in Thurston County.

Our goal as a nonprofit, nonpartisan local news organization is to be your go-to news source and be responsive to our community. Yet after three and a half years, we are still struggling to be sustainable.

For Democracy Day, I wanted to share with you more about who we are and how we deliver our reporting.

A brief history

In May 2020, I launched The JOLT with $44,000. Having listened to local people complain for 15 years about the lack of local news stories, I figured that within three months, we would have built a steady audience that would have enabled us to support our mission on ad sales alone.

Well, I was wrong in many ways. Even though we're reaching more than 5,100 people daily with our headlines, and our website sees more than 40,000 unique visitors each month, this kind of publication doesn't and won't support itself with online advertising. To cover all the topics you see on our pages takes more reporters, columnists and contributors than I could have estimated three and a half years ago.

By the end of 2020, we could see the end of our operating cash. Ten local businesses and the Nisqually Indian Tribe granted us funding to carry on for a few months, money for which I'll be forever grateful. But it was not enough to pay for local reporters, freelance writers or even college journalists sufficient to cover all the public meetings around here, produce the police blotter or to spice things up with stories about people doing brilliant things.

Let's talk about hybrid reporting. 

It has become more common for reporters and editors to work remotely, especially since the pandemic and as many meetings are aired live/recorded. In 2021, I hired an experienced reporter in the Philippines to help us out. Many reporters there have a strong journalism education and professional experiences, and hiring them (paying them well over there) is affordable to us.

This first reporter, Kristine Javier, did a great job covering local meetings. She also wrote stories for which I interviewed local officials and residents – and then sent her a recording. It was the start of our hybrid reporting process.

Hybrid reporting involves two or more journalists working to complete stories. These include researchers, writers, fact-checkers, photographers, illustrators and, of course, editors. Each completes a component of the work and shares it with one or more of the others. Many newspapers do this, a few do it with overseas help.

In our case, every news story we publish involves at least three of our regular staff members – at least one writer and two editors, one of which is based here in Olympia (me) or in Seattle (Sage Hamilton). Our other editor, Edwin Gutierrez, lives in the Philippines.

How COVID-19 saved local democracy here

We launched The JOLT during the early, dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one was attending in-person, face-to-face meetings. But business carried on, including the business of government. The cities expanded their use of Zoom and YouTube and made meetings available in real-time that way for the members who needed to be there to listen and vote and for the general public.

The cities and county now hold most meetings as  "hybrid" meetings. The meetings are held both live in-person and online – and the public is invited to watch and speak at many of them.

My house, where I was covering meetings, is only three to five miles from our city halls and the county courthouse. We began to cover all the sessions, but remotely. 

It became clear that whether our reporter was three miles or 6,000 miles away, the work was the same. And so we did it and, and we still do it. Our reporters are very talented.

They learn their beats almost as well as if their feet were on Martin Way or Capitol Boulevard. They know the names of elected council and commission members; they also know the names of the appointed committee and board members who guide the elected officials. They know with whom to follow up when needed – or they ask me, and I make the connection.

Our reporters work for us on an ongoing basis

Some have suggested that non-local reporters can't possibly understand how things work around here well enough to write accurate news stories. Our discovery: They certainly can, and do! Like local reporters, they cover regular beats – the same committees, councils, boards and commissions – week after week.

Some people here have wondered aloud whether these reporters come and go, popping in to write a story or two and then be off to another newsroom. Nope. See above.

 Most of our writers live in Thurston County

Most of the people who write regularly for The JOLT live in Thurston County. Take a look at the bios of all nine of our reporters and contributing writers and all seven of our columnists.

Community engagement and The JOLT

You'll note that nearly every story in The JOLT (except obituaries and calendar events) has the commenting feature enabled. You can engage with our reporters and other readers. Many news sites have the comments feature turned off.

Every page of The JOLT invites you to "CONTRIBUTE YOUR NEWS." See that little red button at the top of every page (for desktop/tablet users) or the "Contribute your news" link under the Main Menu button for smartphone users. There's no barrier to reach us. Just click. We respond to these every day.

Coming soon

In the coming days and weeks, you will see new features in The JOLT that further demonstrate our commitment to our values. We plan to implement more ways to seek and understand your comments, suggestions and ideas.

If you have thoughts about this column or ideas on how we can become a sustainable news organization, please send me a note or comment below this story.

I appreciate your interest in local news and democracy, and thank you for reading The JOLT.

Editor's Note:  This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit usdemocracyday.org.

Danny Stusser is the publisher of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater and the executive director of The JOLT News Organization


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  • SaraLynn

    We love The Jolt. We have even sent you news tips, such as the following:

    >>It is with great concern that we learned that JBLM is denying veterans access to suicide prevention resources and crisis counseling on-post. We respect our military and honor our troops for the sacrifices that they make and believe that every veteran in crisis has earned the right to counseling and religious and spiritual guidance.

    After reaching out to Chaplains at JBLM we learned that the Chaplains are always willing to provide support and guidance to veterans in need. However, we were told that it is the JBLM Directorate of Emergency Service / DES that is denying veterans access to counseling and support services, by denying these veterans access to post, and that there is little the Chaplains can do to assist veterans in need if the DES keeps these veterans from having access to on-post counseling, spiritual guidance and religious services.<<

    Keep up the good work. We always enjoy reading The Jolt. Thanks.

    Friday, September 15, 2023 Report this

  • OlympiaResident

    I look at The Jolt daily and see it fulfilling many aspects of a community paper. My credibility in its coverage is lessened by the fact that The Jolt is outsourcing local news coverage to foreign workers who don’t live here, have never been here and don’t understand community values. In my humble perhaps outdated opinion, columnists who write about their personal feelings or personal hobbies don’t need to live here. However, reporters who decipher the actions of our local government, schools and economy should. I recognize that it’s difficult to report the news on a shoe string. But does The Jolt really need to hire foreign workers to report local hard news?

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • psterry

    With respect to non resident reporters, it occurs to me that they are truly unbiased reporters, reporting without the filters of bias. They don't insert their values, they don't 'dress up' the news to suit their point of view. In a way, that's very refreshing. Maybe it is one answer to the advocacy problem that plagues today's media. Just sayin'...

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • Johnwils

    I look forward to reading JOLT every day. Thanks for your efforts!

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • KatAshe

    Local journalism is so valuable but so very endangered that on discovering The Jolt, I became a paid subscriber.

    It’s great having other sources for international, national and regional news, but access to local news gets more difficult with each year, and impacts those of us living in Thurston more than news about Seattle or King county politics, or what is happening in France or Japan.

    Thank you Danny for keeping local news alive.

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • Southsoundguy

    Democracy is the crisis.

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • Olynancy

    We read The Jolt every day and find nuggets of information daily. And we appreciate the focus on items other than crime while making policy and governance issues clear. Thank you for this reminder of how it came to be and continues to work so well. I hope you get lots of us donating as a result!

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • DStusser

    To Olynancy

    and others considering contributing to our work:

    First, thanks for considering supporting your local news org. Second. Maybe wait! A dollar received in November is worth more than a dollar today -- we're working now to attract matching contributions for the annual NewsMatch campaign that starts after Halloween. First-time donors in November (if we attract 100 such contributions again) attract a $10 bonus. We appreciate your words of support here, too.

    ~ Danny Stusser

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • OlympiaResident

    I'm the person who questioned the practice of using foreign workers to report local news. Though I wish this wasn't the case, I want to say that I also value The Jolt and appreciate its broad coverage of local issues and events. I'm glad The Jolt exists and look at it daily. Journalism has changed with its switch to digital coverage and I recognize it's unfair to judge today's free on-line news sources to top notch media outlets that employ highly paid professionals who are experts in their field and offer analysis in addition to a headline service. I also recognize that with that analysis comes a lot of editorial bias. Maybe having reporters with no stake in the game has its advantages. As a former community newspaper reporter, I guess I'm still adjusting to how it used to be.

    Saturday, September 16, 2023 Report this

  • GFelsen

    Shout out to Olympia Resident. It's not often someone comes back to respond and adds that they modified their point of view along with plenty of praise for Jolt.

    Thank you, Mr. Stusser, for giving us a genuine source of local news.

    Sunday, September 17, 2023 Report this

  • jlongley

    Danny, thanks for sharing how JOLT utilizes both local and non-local reporters as a way to provide us more local news coverage than you would otherwise be able to afford. I have mixed feelings about using foreign-based reporters to report local news. I can see both sides of the issue. I DO know that I appreciate that the JOLT exists in our community and feel it generally does a good job. I also appreciate that it has continued to grow, if slowly, and has evolved in the breadth of its coverage. It feels like an organic organism that grows and changes as the issues and the community changes, and I think that is a good thing.

    I appreciate former comments that the Thurston County community has almost become a 'news desert', due to the dwindling presence of the long-standing daily newspaper. It's WAY-out-of-town corporate ownership feels like it could fold at any time, due to insufficient profits,and that is a poor 'raison d'etre'.

    I salute Danny and the JOLT staff for hanging in there, even when it's been hard to pay the bills. I read JOLT regularly, and I contribute. I heartily recommend others do the same, to ensure we have good, honest coverage of the issues important to our community.

    Jim Longley


    Monday, September 18, 2023 Report this