Campbell noted that new business models have emerged, including news websites, either nonprofit or for-profit. Another innovation has been the move to underwrite specific reporters’ salaries with philanthropic donations. The Seattle Times is a leader in this, with 27 newsroom positions supported by donors. The Columbian now has five reporters whose salaries are paid by donations.
That prompted a good question about how readers can be assured that donors do not get to set the local news agenda. Campbell responded that donors are told in advance, before their money is accepted, that they will have no access to what stories are being planned or to see them before publication. And, he noted, back when advertising was the biggest piece of the revenue pie, certain advertisers would object to stories. So there is a tradition of a robust firewall between news and business operations at newspapers.
The conversation also touched on artificial intelligence, a topic that has been getting a lot of attention in journalism circles. The mayor shared a tale of how she shopped for slippers for her mother-in-law and now the ads follow her everywhere. Campbell said at the local level, AI further muddies the waters and makes it difficult for local media, particularly locally owned media like The Columbian, to compete for advertising and circulation dollars.
It was a sobering discussion at times, but I took heart at these two statements by community-minded people, the first by the mayor of a large Washington city and the second by an owner with the passion for the news:
“We absolutely need newspapers,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
“I don’t think print will ever go away,” Campbell said.