It’s been tough sledding for newspapers the past 30 years. Allow me to elaborate.
The first two newspapers I worked on were The Plain Dealer (once the biggest newspaper in Ohio) and the Cleveland Press (the biggest newspaper in Cleveland). The Press died in the 1980s, and today the PD delivers papers four times weekly. Its downtown newsroom closed many years ago.
In California I joined the Santa Rosa News-Herald, then the Cloverdale Reveille, later the Mendocino Grapevine and am now extremely part-time with the Daily Journal. Only the Reveille and Daily Journal survive, though in reduced circumstances.
The storms and changes that have ravaged the news industry since the 1990s have not spared the Journal. Classified ads and other revenues are now found online, draining talent from newsrooms and subscribers from circulation departments. Newspapers today chase dwindling dollars with diminished resources.
Recently the paper’s longtime editor, KC Meadows, sent out a mass email briefly detailing the importance of “professional, credible local news and information” to cities and towns across the land, and warns that this “fabric of our great nation, a cornerstone to our representative democracy” is at risk. She asks local citizens to support their paper via a full year of the online Daily Journal for just $29.
I share her worries for the future of the most important source of local news in Ukiah, and I suggest in a fairly loud voice and with a finger jabbing your chest that you do indeed subscribe. Today.
Think of other worthy causes local citizens support. The Boys & Girls Club, assisted in large part by the Daily Journal, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from locals over the years. Ditto the Christmas Effort. We voted to raise taxes to save the library and many of our neighbors find time to volunteer or give money to the SPACE Academy, Plowshares, Ukiah Playhouse and Senior Center. Are any of those organizations more important, day in and year out, than a local newspaper?
For many years I’ve listened to people proudly say they neither subscribe to, nor read, the Daily Journal. You know who you are.
They consider themselves well-educated and well-read and whenever the paper is mentioned their response is always the same: “There’s nothing in it,” they say, sometimes adding with a chuckle, “I call it the Daily Urinal.” Very clever, very original.
This was back in the 1980s when the Journal had a dozen reporters, including the legendary Glenn Ericksen in sports, all-stars like Charlie Rappleye and Gale Holland doing investigative reporting, along with photos by Evan Johnson. As the years rolled on, waves of fine journalists came through the UDJ: Glenda Anderson, Peter Page, KC Meadows and Justine Frederiksen.
And through all those years and generations of topnotch reporting the paper was sneered at by our intellectuals, the arrogant snobs whose idea of fine writing and quality journalism came from Rolling Stone and Newsweek magazines.
Today? No one is saying the present iteration of the UDJ is on a par with the best, early versions, but the same is true of newspapers in LA, SF, NY and Cleveland. All have suffered, many have died.
Yet the Daily Journal, bowed and battered, soldiers on. Locals smirk, continue to refer to it as the Urinal, and turn to Politico and the Huffington Post for hot news.
I tell my friends, and now I tell my readers, that even a struggling paper is a paper worth supporting. An ailing newspaper can be brought back to life and back to health. A weak paper can be revived. One that dies is dead forever.
Any newspaper is worth fighting for. Any city with a newspaper ought to support it because if it exists in even a weakened condition it can be rehabilitated. That’s because a standing newspaper retains a structure that will allow it to be made strong and viable once again.
Every paper has a circulation department with a delivery system and telephones with people who answer them. There is an advertising department and a steady, nourishing source of revenue remains via legal advertising.
Even a moribund newspaper has a system in place to print another edition tomorrow. If the paper dies all those elements die with it. Building a new paper is nearly impossible. Starting a newspaper from scratch can’t be done.
We’ve already touched upon Ukiah’s long history of volunteers helping worthy causes. How about rounding up some of the old suspects to rejoin the ranks of ink stained wretches? I’d love Laura Hamburg, Mark Hedges, Kathy Brigham and Evan Johnson to donate a few hours a month. It’d be great to pair up with Steve Caravello on a project now and then. There are others who have the talent, and might have the time.
Support the Daily Journal because it’s a local business. Support it because a city without a newspaper is vulnerable to all sorts of mischief from local governments and outside interests.
For $29 you’ll give the Journal a financial shot in the arm, and keep local journalism alive in Ukiah through the foreseeable future.