Shawn Vestal: Editor relies on new model to bring news to Idahoans

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This time last year, Christina Lords thought she might be done with journalism.

She had just been fired as editor of the Idaho Statesman after posting on Twitter that the company that owns the Boise newspaper, McClatchy, would not provide Microsoft Excel software to one of its reporters.

After years of fighting the Sisyphus battles of the 21st century editor – staff cuts, broadcast losses, corporate greed, low pay and online pressure – she thought she might be done pushing that rock. . Leaving the field would have been quite a change for the Idaho native and University of Idaho graduate, who also worked at newspapers in Moscow, Idaho Falls and Nampa.

“My career has basically covered local and national government, all my life,” she said.

Then, following her Twitter exchange with McClatchy and an outcry of support from her former staff, a friend from college helped her connect with the people who run States Newsroom, an organization national non-profit journalism organization. Less than a year later, she and her three reporters are making a significant mark on Idaho media coverage, using a pattern that upends many of the patterns that had her about to leave the company.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit newsroom, part of the nationwide network of 23 Newsroom Capital of the United States operations. He publishes stories on his website, and those stories are available to others under the Creative Commons license — meaning they’re free for cash-strapped newsrooms.

This last point is crucial. The Capital Sun enables newspapers across the region — many of which cannot afford to cover the state house — to have free, high-quality coverage of politics and government. It helps support journalism for the citizens of the state, not just one company, and editorial decisions are made in Idaho by Idahoans.

In her first conversations with state newsroom leaders, Lords said, she asked what kinds of coverage they expected to see.

“They said, ‘No, no, no. You tell us what you think Idaho needs,” she said.

‘Feed the Beast’

The woes of press journalism are well documented. As advertising revenue dried up and forms of online news exploded, newspapers cut staff, cut days of publication, and shut down altogether.

According to the Pew Research Center, editorial employment in newspapers fell 57% between 2008 and 2020. The pace of this trend has accelerated: from 2018 to 2020, according to a study by the University of North Carolina, nearly 6,000 journalism jobs and 300 newspapers have disappeared. — and that was before the pandemic.

The effect of this on news reporting in communities has been profound; not only are the staff smaller, but the pressures to fill the same space online and in print – what Lords calls “feeding the beast” – are intensifying, making it increasingly difficult for publishers to prioritize to high quality coverage, which takes time and expertise, on quick and shallow stories.

Media coverage was particularly affected. States Newsroom, which has grown from a single outlet in North Carolina to more than 26 separate operations across the country employing more than 100 reporters, aims to help reverse that trend. It includes operations in Oregon and Montana.

“Our goal is to complement and do what we can to fill the void in the capital’s shrinking news corps,” said Chris Simon, founder and director of States Newsroom.

The non-profit organization raises funds from foundations, individual donors and readers, and names top contributors on its website. The project is one of many attempts to rethink the model of print journalism and find new ways to produce news coverage for consumers.

“We need to start seeing journalism as a public good as much as an industry,” Fitzsimon said. “It’s literally part of the fabric of our democracy.”

While competition and commercial considerations have been the main drivers of journalism for many years, what is happening now is increasingly emphasizing cooperation and collaboration.

“Shouldn’t we start thinking more strategically about the health of democracy rather than, ‘Did we start by telling the story?’ asked the lords.

The Capital Sun tries to publish one full, well-reported story a day — but the priority is to make the stories as good as possible, not an arbitrary delay, she said.

“So much to cover”

You can see the changing news coverage every day in this newspaper. Editor Rob Curley has relied on non-profit resources such as grant-funded reporting positions and community fundraising, to hire several reporters producing stories here, as well as at Olympia and in Washington, D.C.

These decisions – which some veterans were initially wary of, to say the least – resulted in stronger daily reporting than many other newspapers. You’ll also see articles from Capital Sun in these pages, as well as by-line articles from other newspapers and nonprofit news organizations such as Crosscut News.

More and more often, instead of copyrighting and hoarding stories, news organizations are choosing to share them.

Journalism produced by The Spokesman-Review grant-funded journalists is available to anyone who wishes, as long as it is credited, under the Creative Commons license. Same with Capital Sun and Crosscut.

“I think collaboration is so much more important than it’s ever been because there are so few resources and so much to cover,” Fitzsimon said.

The Statehouse project is a positive development in an area that still faces major challenges. The health of community journalism – especially in small towns – is poor, and the negative effects on civic life and the ability of citizens to know what their government is doing are real.

“It’s not a replacement for a local newspaper that covers everything,” Lords said.

Fitzsimon agrees.

“I really encourage everyone to pay to subscribe to their local newspaper,” he said. “Legacy stories are still a foundation of the journalism ecosystem.”

In Idaho, the Capital Sun provides citizens across the state with high-quality, high-profile work on its website and in newspaper pages who otherwise would not have access to such coverage.

Senior reporter Audrey Dutton focused on health care and the pandemic, and she’s done a great job tracking COVID-19 in the state, including a series of articles on the misinformation crisis. Clark Corbin, a longtime Capitol reporter in Boise, follows government and state politics, and Kelcie Moseley-Morris, another longtime Idaho reporter, focuses on fiscal policy.

They’re not the only nonprofit journalism in Idaho — Idaho Education News is another — but they help give the state’s citizens access to important information they don’t. might not have had it otherwise, produced by a team with a long resume from spanning the state.

“Having the ability to have an experienced staff of Idahoans who have lived here for so long makes a big difference,” Lords said.

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