From the Publisher’s Desk: Nonprofit news, one year later — and a matching campaign from Rick Steves

My Neighborhood News Network President and CEO Teresa Wippel, right, with Diana Oliveros of Se Habla Media/Jaime Mendez News at a fundraising event Thursday. (Photo by Nick Ng)

It’s been a year since I announced that the My Neighborhood News Network — which includes digital news properties Lynnwood Today, MLTnews and My Edmonds News — was moving to nonprofit status. The news earlier this week that the Daily Herald in Everett was cutting half of its editorial staff — a total of 10 journalists — reinforces my belief that our decision to become a community-owned nonprofit was the right one.

Founded in 1987, Sound Publishing owned numerous community newspapers in Washington state. It also published the Everett Herald. Sound Publishing was acquired by Carpenter Media Group earlier this year after Sound’s parent company Black Press Media declared bankruptcy.

Sadly, this type of downsizing is happening not just locally but across the U.S. And it begs an important question. Do we value journalism in the U.S.? Do we believe it plays a key role in protecting our democracy? If we do, why are news organizations struggling to survive? I certainly don’t have all the answers – or all the solutions. But I believe that moving to nonprofit status and strengthening community-supported journalism is a start.

As I told readers when we first made this shift, it’s important to view our move to a nonprofit organization through the lens of what is best for the future of journalism – and the role that local news plays in ensuring our democracy. Thousands of news organizations have shut down in recent years, including several local weekly newspapers that used to cover South Snohomish County.

In late 2022, the League of Women Voters of Washington released a study, “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy.” You can read the complete report here but I wanted to highlight two significant findings:

– Between 2005 and 2020, more than one fourth of the country’s newspapers – 2,100 in all – disappeared. Half the journalism jobs nationally went away. So did half of the newspaper subscribers. The losses left residents of 1,800 communities in news deserts, meaning they had no local newspaper.

– National research shows the loss of newspapers over the past 20 years has caused serious impacts: Fewer people running for office and fewer people voting, less community engagement, increased political partisanship, and negative outcomes in public health and public finance, among other concerns.

Even before our country’s founding, the League of Women Voters study states, “newspapers were a cornerstone of civic lives. Newspapers provided information that enabled readers to be involved in efforts to grow our fledgling democracy. Over the centuries, newspapers have continued to educate readers about significant issues, including providing information so that we could select leaders to help us build healthy and productive communities.”

An increasing number of people are warming to the idea that journalism should no longer be defined as a commercial business. Instead, it should be viewed as a public service and a civic asset that serves our community.

It’s been our mission for the past year to put that idea into action.

So how are we doing, a year in?

Building a sustainable news organization requires an engaged board of directors. Our all-volunteer nonprofit board members bring a range of skill sets and backgrounds to the organization and are committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability community news for Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway. The board has spent many hours during the past year and a half developing a budget and strategic plan to guide the growth of our nonprofit newsroom in South Snohomish County. We also have a separate development committee specifically devoted to fundraising.

One of our first major fundraising successes was participation in a national nonprofit news matching campaign at the end of 2023. Our initial goal was to raise $30,000 – but thanks to our generous community, we doubled that amount – raising $60,000. This is an annual effort, and you will be hearing more about that later this year.

I’m also excited to announce our summer 2024 matching campaign: European travel guide Rick Steves will match all donations up to $10,000. You can make your donation here.

On the editorial side, we hired a managing editor, which allows me to focus more of my time on developing our organizational infrastructure. We have an incredible group of core freelance reporters and photographers who do an outstanding job of covering our communities. In the next year, we hope to hire one to two full-time reporters to expand our work.

The mission for our nonprofit news organization is to focus on civic education and engagement for all stakeholders — including those who have been traditionally underrepresented. To advance that mission, we have been diligent this year in forming partnerships with organizations in our community.

– We are working with LETI – the Latino Educational Training Institute – to sponsor a community news intern this summer.

– We are partnering with the House of Wisdom, a nonprofit that works with immigrant youth, to showcase both students and tutors in their program.

– And we have a content-sharing partnership with Se Habla Media and Jaime Mendez News that includes the daily posting of Spanish-language news broadcasts and weekly podcasts – both with English subtitles.

We also have partnered with the Verdant Health Commission, which is sponsoring our Health Matters series of articles on key health issues in our community.

Connecting with community members – both those who read our publications and those who don’t — is another of our priorities, and we will be doing more of that in the coming year. In the past six months, we have held reader listening events in both Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, and another one is scheduled for Lynnwood this Saturday, June 22 — 3 p.m. at the Lynnwood Library. But we plan to go further in the coming year, to reach those in underserved communities who may not know about our work – and find out what matters to them when it comes to local news.

Revisiting the news of recent journalism layoffs in our area, it’s important to note that other news organizations across the nation are starting to follow the nonprofit, public-service path. Here’s why I believe it’s the right choice for our websites and our community:

– It changes the focus of the My Neighborhood News Network from a one-person news operation, supported by a team of freelance and contract help, to an organization that is essentially owned by the community it serves.

– It opens the door to additional sources of financial support while still allowing us to accept advertising from our valued sponsors – many of whom have been with us for many years.

– That additional financial support will strengthen our longstanding commitment to serving our community, providing for broader and deeper coverage of issues that matter to our readers — from education and the environment to housing and public safety.

– It demonstrates our commitment to engage residents who are traditionally underserved by the mainstream media – and involve them in building a nonprofit news organization that better serves them.

The Institute for Nonprofit News lists eight nonprofit organizations as members in Washington state, including Seattle-based Crosscut, Grist and InvestigateWest. Smaller communities that have nonprofit news outlets include Gig Harbor Now, Key Peninsula News, Salish Current and The Journal of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater (The Jolt). We are proud to be the first news outlet in Snohomish County to covert to nonprofit status, thus committing ourselves to long-term sustainability and community ownership of local news.

In closing, I want to sincerely thank all of you who have supported us in so many ways through donations of money, time and ideas. We are proud to be community owned, locally based and fully committed to trusted journalism in South Snohomish County.

— Teresa Wippel, President and CEO
My Neighborhood News Network

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.