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Local journalists quite rightly defend their profession

Emmett O’Connell’s Facebook page has cultivated a lively discussion with a number of journalists — including a current and former Olympian reporter. They offer terrific arguments for why there is no substitute for professional, full-time journalists. The context of the conversation was a reposting of my essay, “If The Olympian is dying, what do we do?” I’d encourage you to read the whole thread, but here are a few highlights.

For example, former Olympian reporter Chester Allen asked, “Would you hire a part-time attorney to represent you in court? Would you hire a semi-pro accountant to do your taxes? It takes serious skills and time on the job to even sort out the truth from the lies on a daily basis. Sources will spin amateurs like a top. It’s hard to see a part-time reporter doing a comprehensive, 5,000-word report on the health of Puget Sound — or on the local school district’s budget.”

Allen knows what he’s talking about. In the best of circumstances small-scale publications and blogs can only cover a modest portion of the news that even a downsized daily paper such as The Olympian routinely covers. The electronic revolution may be changing the ways news is delivered, but it doesn’t change the level of time and skills needed to conduct rigorous journalism. The big question is how to pay for it . . . which (interestingly) was addressed only parenthetically by the commentators.

One other discussion theme was the lack of respect paid to journalists. As a case in point, Olympian reporter Andy Hobbs said, “Let’s not forget about the readers who constantly insult your work and your newspaper when you’re trying to do the best you can (with the talent you have) to serve the public and feed your family while the media company continues to demand more output with fewer resources. It can crush your spirit if you let it.”

I’m old enough to remember an era when journalists were viewed as heroes. One need not put the Washington Post on a pedestal to agree that their reporting played a crucial role in holding the Nixon administration accountable for its high crimes. Today we need that caliber of reporting even more — and not just at the federal level.

How do we re-envision the daily “newspaper” so that it can pay for high-quality and comprehensive journalism? How do we cultivate a level of civility that balances honoring journalists for their important work while also offering feedback in productive ways?

— S. Salmi

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