Press Talk: Of legacies and why we do stories

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio

I sneaked into the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington’s annual luncheon this week, and what a neat time that was.

They even handed a buck to everybody who attended -- a Rutherford B. Hayes gold coin, no less. So it was one of those rare events where you came out with more money than you went in with.

The buck was an incentive to begin planning your own legacy.

The foundation honored a bunch of folks who have created their own legacy by generously giving to our community in many different ways. The Columbian had a big front-page story on it.

Among those honored were Scott and Jody Campbell, owners of The Columbian. Foundation president Richard Melching made note that The Columbian -- under the Campbells’ guidance -- has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in free advertising to local nonprofit agencies.

The Campbells have always believed in giving back.

But what about news?

As part of The Columbian’s commitment to the community, Melching also noted the number of stories we’ve done on nonprofits. And it was this point that raised a subtle but important question all newspapers and journalists deal with.

Why do we do stories?

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The other day I received an email from an Oregon resort. The woman who sent it sounded very nice. She told me about all the amenities at the resort and said she thought our readers should know about it. I emailed back, thanked her, and said I’d pass it along to our advertising department.

Her return email was quick.

“I don’t have an advertising budget. I was looking for a story.”

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Now think about this for a second. If you own a bakery, and someone comes in and says, “I’d like a loaf of bread,” and you say, “That will be $2,” and he says, “I don’t have a grocery budget. I was looking for you to just give it to me. …” How exactly does that business model work?

For a newspaper, when it comes to nonprofits, the business end of our paper will always consider giving away advertising. Nonprofits, by definition, are not in it to get rich. And The Columbian -- as a business -- will help out when it can.

But in order to survive, The Columbian can’t give away everything to everyone. Someone has to help pay the bills. And that’s mostly for-profit businesses.

Now let’s look at news for a second and the question posed earlier. Why do we do stories?

Well, unlike The Columbian’s giving free ads to nonprofits to help them, that would not be any newsroom’s main goal. The main goal of a newsroom is to inform readers.

Let’s be clear, we know when we do a story on a nonprofit, it will help them out.

But the main reason we do a story is because we believe there is a large interest among our readers.

There you have it. The Columbian believes strongly it should leave a legacy of giving to this community. And the Columbian’s newsroom believes its legacy will be providing news and information that will help bring our community together.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, http://twitter.com/lounews or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com.