Imagine a world without journalists

June 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

Just a note to say why I’m committed to supporting a journalism community, now more than ever.

Reason #1: Launch-party-inspired warm fuzzies turned to hard cash reality when I got to pay the remainder of our printing bill from my personal funds. “Got to” is sincere; I can’t feed the project very much, but I’m grateful for circumstances that allow me to make these kind of sacrifices. Magazines create communities, and reading a physical copy is like holding hands with other readers. I will stand by this simile.

Reason #2: I got to spend an entire week with about 20 smart, compassionate, curious and unrelenting journalists on a trip with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources. They got us out in North Dakota, where I’d never been and most of my colleagues hadn’t either. That’s the whole point of this field-based reporting organization. We emerged with vivid stories and photos, and a stronger context for stories related to habitat conservation, fracking, agriculture and geology. I also came away with a love for all the great journalists out there. Best to check out our Instagram photos.

Reason #3: Earlier, during a week wrought with high-profile accusations that the media sucks when they are actually doing their job, I saw these three points of light:

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First, on the 5th anniversary of the Joplin tornado, The Columbia Missourian posted this cover story from that day. My friend Justin designed the page. He had some really beautiful things to say about what it meant to him:

“I never went down to Joplin to see the aftermath of this one firsthand; the only tornado damage I covered in person was in high school in Nixa, but I still feel for everyone on the receiving end of storms like that.

And finally, even though I usually try to steer clear of the political threads on Facebook: In this year of people blaming “the media” as a monolithic evil responsible for so many of the country’s ills, let’s all try to remember that “the media” isn’t just the faces on TV talking about this candidate or that candidate for giant companies you might dislike; it’s also the countless other people, including in towns in Missouri, trying to help make sense of any number of the other crazy things going on in this world of ours. I hope that page helped someone who needed it.”

Then, Sarah Kendzior re-shared a clip from an opinion article I loved reading earlier this March. Titled, “Who won the Midwest? Not the people who live in it,” the piece was about Missouri’s unfortunate status as an irrelevant and predictable Red State. But what she retweeted, and what particularly struck me after thinking about Justin’s reflection, was this:

“The story of the Midwest remains largely untold. All candidates court the Midwest by bemoaning its loss of industry, but one of the main industries it lost is media.”

She goes on to talk about how unless there’s a crisis in Missouri or the Midwest, our everyday struggle gets ignored, leaving the region as a whole heartbroken. I feel that. That’s why I love Belt so much. That’s why I started The New Territory.

I have to admit, I really want the NT to run more journalism than it does, do better journalism. I think we’re getting better in subsequent issues and I’m trying to not be too hard on myself. I’m working to find outside funding so we don’t hit a plateau. The longform reporting and writing I’m asking for from these people takes a lot of time to find the right sources, do research to back it up, and then produce something beautiful. Visuals are another big investment. Part of why our cover price is $15 and not something like $5.95 is that most of the burden of paying for these stories goes to the reader. But, readers aren’t trained to do that, and that may be why we don’t sell as fast as I wish we were.

It’s hard to convince many people anywhere to fund good journalism, and especially hard when people perceive “media” and “journalism” as the bad guys promoting bad behavior in our culture.

Finally, Joy Mayer examined eight stories in a post, “What have journalists done for you lately?” I like that she doesn’t highlight the latest big investigative reports or cutting-edge infographics. Considered individually, these pieces of media may seem small or insignificant, but Mayer makes a case for each one being valuable in her life and the spirit of each story having universal significance. But how can we support creators?

“And it all takes an investment on the part of an organization or an individual. None of it comes free.

If journalists want people to value their work, they need to work on telling its story.”

Read her blog for prompts on how to start communicating media’s value. It’s something I’ll certainly take to heart and will try to do more.

So, I still have some boxes sitting in my apartment of a magazine about finding strength. I even have a web page set up where you can buy it. And if you buy it, you support future journalism from the region. You help yourself and the community make sense of the Lower Midwest. And, you have something pretty to brag about.

If you already subscribe, then consider some handmade leather goods or locally roasted coffee. It’s a double-whammy of supporting local artisans and kicking another percentage of proceeds to NT. There’s the marketing speech.

 

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