Did you know you had a baby?
Of course, I’m talking about The JOLT, The Journal OF Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater – your community-owned nonprofit news organization, your baby.
We posted our first hard-news story, about the first of two fires at what was then the Quality Inn in Olympia, on May 20, 2020.
Like most babies, yours isn’t always brilliant or charming. It needs attention and affection to thrive. Occasionally it has a little accident (we made two corrections to news stories this week after having gone several months without the need).
Like some babies, it arrived unwanted, ignored by most who caught a glimpse of it. But if you look back, The JOLT shouldn’t have been a surprise baby; you might say the communities here were an empty crib, waiting for a hyper-local news baby.
Just as in most areas across the country, by 2020 Thurston County’s local news reporting had been greatly diminished. At the top of the old local news game, The Olympian employed some 25 people in its newsroom, and those were the days when the county’s population was about 120,000 lower than today. Today there are around five people who work on the editorial side there (and about three and a half here) – not enough to tell all the stories for an area that’s now pretty close to 300,000 people, with three cities, a county, a public port, three (or seven) school districts and porous borders between them.
As far as I’ve been able to learn, The JOLT is the first new daily news service to launch in Thurston County since … since 1860, when The Washington Standard launched. (Please hit me a reply if you know otherwise.)
Maybe you didn’t want a baby
Surveys – I won’t bother to quote them here – say that news media is no longer trusted by a majority of the American public. Between the hyper-partisan slant of many national television and print media and the acceleration of noise in social media, it’s not surprising.
But when other surveys distinguish between national news outlets and truly local news organizations – like The JOLT – it’s clear that many more people trust their local news sources than the nationals. We’re hoping this baby survives long enough to truly differentiate itself from national media and become, well, like the unwanted baby that becomes beloved.
Not my baby.
Some people who know about The JOLT think it’s my baby. While it’s true that this reporter/editor/publisher gave birth to this baby (and still stays up late feeding it), early in its life we realized our mission better fit that of a local nonprofit organization.
So last fall we established The JOLT News Organization, a nonprofit, that holds our website and newsletter, The Daily JOLT.
It’s not (just) my baby. Our seven-member board of directors are my bosses. And you, a member of the local community, you own The JOLT News Organization.
What is this baby’s mission?
Glad you asked. Each of the words in our mission statement were debated and massaged by our dedicated board members last fall. It’s a mouthful. Here it is:
The JOLT nourishes the civic lives
of Thurston County residents
and grows community capacity by
publishing accurate, relevant and entertaining
stories that help people become
better informed and more involved
in local issues, events and activities.
“Can a baby save a marriage?”
Mother Google offers 229,000,000 answers to this famous question. What it means here is: “Can more and better local news coverage save our local democracy and, by extension, the nation?”
Along with about 900 hyper-local publishers around the U.S. (about 140 of which are nonprofits) we’re betting that it can.
There’s no good substitute for the kind of accurate and reliable work of professional reporters. These people are trained to listen to sources, check facts and get the story straight. Forgive me, but opinions are not the same as facts. Your Facebook friends aren’t sitting through public meetings, summarizing what they learn by reading 96-page engineering documents, interviewing multiple people to get some balance or making repeated attempts to talk with potential sources who’d rather keep clam.
Another thing, if you’ll allow on Your Baby’s Second Birthday: When it comes to keeping the public informed fully and accurately there’s no substitute for experience.
The thing called institutional memory, knowing where stuff came from, why it’s there, who made it happen and whom to call for a quick update, this helps make great news reporting. Just as a longtime employee, committee member or elected official can explain to colleagues why something must or shouldn’t be done, experienced reporters with longevity on their beats write reliable stories.
But there is the next best thing: research. Doing an extra interview, digging through archives, and even checking to see if we’ve covered a topic in our short time in existence.
Okay, what does your baby need on its second birthday?
It needs more advertisers and sponsors. (Interested? The number is 360-357-1000. Thanks.)
More editorial contributors. We’re starting to look for:
By the way, this baby costs money
And like babies in general, the costs increase as the baby gets bigger and can do more things. Your baby’s caretakers (the staff and board of directors) have big dreams for what this local-news baby can become.
Oh. One more thing.
We're not having a party today, sorry. But if you’re the kind of person who would never show up to celebrate a baby’s birthday without a gift in hand, may I make a suggestion?
A dollar for each month of life = $24
A dollar a week would be $104
A dollar a day of publication would be about $521, but we'd certainly be happy to receive a dollar per daily issue of The Daily JOLT -- That would be only $475.
What would really help us to become "sustainable" (the biggest buzzword in the local news business) would be a monthly contribution of any amount. These give us both hope and a path forward.
So if you’re still reading this, thank you for caring about Your Baby. Let’s keep it growing.
On behalf of our columnists and reporting staff: Prachi, Kathleen, Alexis, Pat (once in a while), Jill, Mary Beth, Julia, Jay (Edwin), JC, Lyn, George, Tiziana and myself, thank you for reading The JOLT.
Danny Stusser is the publisher of The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater and Executive Director of The JOLT News Organization.
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