Why does Thurston County need a JOLT to our LOCAL News Media?
By Danny Stusser
Publisher, The JOLT – The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater
In March this year I dug out a local-news business plan from 2011. The need for this idea was clear nine years ago, even more today. But before I tell you about it, please consider three questions:
1) Do you feel concerned about the declining number of local news* stories available from established media in Thurston County?
- Stories about schools, businesses, elections, local officials, public works programs, crime, construction, transportation, people helping people, organizations that help people, neighborhood groups, people doing interesting things, events, resources and people doing rotten things? 2) Do you feel that local control over the editorial choices made by local media is important to ensure trust and relevance? 3) Are you disappointed that there are only six local reporters in the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater area covering three city government councils and committees, four school districts, the county government (commissioners and committees), the Port of Olympia, businesses, five police agencies, scores of non-profit organizations, not to mention lifestyle and event news?
If you said YES to any of these questions, you’re beginning to understand how desperately Thurston County needs The JOLT – The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater.
I launched The JOLT on May 19, publishing two news stories. Since then I’ve recruited two editors, a reporter and two college interns. We’ve posted more than 250 pieces of original local journalism, most on topics that weren’t covered by any other news service in Thurston County.
Who am I talking about? The Olympian. With only two reporters as recently as this past March, The Olympian can’t possibly cover everything that needs to be covered around here. (For now they’ve got four reporters. Much better but, well, read on.)
What went wrong at The Olympian?
When I moved my family to Olympia in 1995, there were about 30 reporters and editors working at The Olympian, and the population of Thurston County was about half of what it is today. In those days one could expect that at any public meeting there would be a reporter taking notes, maybe a photographer, too. Now that would be a rare exception.
Don’t get me wrong – I still subscribe to The Olympian seven days a week and am grateful it is still in business. And I recommend you subscribe, too.
None of the problems of The Olympian are the fault of anyone who works there now or in any year since 1971, when its family owners sold the business to Gannett Company, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States. Gannett, like other national new businesses, took on debt to make most of its acquisitions.
In 2005, Gannett traded The Olympian to Knight Ridder, another national chain. The next year, Knight Ridder was sold to The McClatchy Company in another leveraged buyout. McClatchy, a family-owned newspaper chain, was smaller than Knight Ridder and took on over $2 BILLION in debt to get that deal done.
The Olympian had been sold again!
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2020. Months and millions of dollars in legal fees later, on September 4 company ownership was transferred to McClatchy’s largest debtor for $312 million. The new owner is Chatham Asset Management, which is usually described as a hedge fund, based in Chatham, New Jersey.
If old-school newspaper owners were superheroes, Chatham would be a supervillain, infiltrating local papers to destroy them from within.
- For several years Chatham controlled the company that owned the National Enquirer, the grocery-store tabloid famous for its laundering of hush money to certain Playmates and porn stars. It sold it in 2019.
- In 2016 Chatham took over Postmedia, the largest newspaper company in Canada. Since then they laid off 1,600 employees and shut down 30 newspapers, according to The New York Times.
- “Under Chatham, Postmedia has consolidated editorial operations to create what company insiders call ‘common pages.’ National and political coverage is often prepared at a central site, and content from The National Post is inserted into newspapers across Postmedia,” according to The New York Times.
“Chatham’s track record as an owner of a major newspaper chain is grim, according to 10 current and former Postmedia employees who spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.
“Since Chatham took a majority stake in Postmedia, the company has cut its work force, shuttered papers across Canada, reduced salaries and benefits, and centralized editorial operations in a way that has made parts of its 106 newspapers into clones of one another.”
The bottom line is: The Olympian is what it is. It’s probably not going to get any better, but it has a pretty good chance of getting worse.
Chatham doesn’t care about you, me, or anyone in Thurston County.
We are perilously close to living in a local news desert. There are just too many stories not being told in The Olympian or anywhere else.
Two, three or six reporters can’t cover enough of the stories in this area so that we can be well-informed about what’s really happening here. News happens 24 hours a day, and not just five days a week.
The Plan that created The JOLT . . .
The plan I mentioned at the top of this piece aims at reviving civic engagement here by publishing professionally written, non-partisan, bias-free (as much as humanly possible) news articles and the opinions and expressions of our readers. That’s what The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater is about. Local news differs from national news. It’s not supposed to be partisan, or biased, or click-baity. Local news is about what’s happening where we live – issues, events, and decisions that matter to us. Real journalists doing work no one else can do to keep local officials and people with power and influence honest.
In many ways people around here ignore local issues because they get so little information about them.
What can you do about this?
News organizations need people paying attention to what they produce. Here are up to five simple things YOU can do to help us grow our readership numbers:
1) Read The JOLT’s website! Make a habit of clicking onto
www.thejoltnews.com every day! You can read it at your desk or on your smartphone.
2) The Daily JOLT newsletter – Sign up to receive our once-a-day local news summary, The Daily JOLT. Comes to your email Monday through Friday at about 7 pm. The form to sign up is at www.thejolt.news (a different webpage). Just key in your first name and email address.
3) Like us on Facebook – find us at Facebook.com/thejoltnews
The more people who LIKE our Facebook page, the more people Facebook will show our headlines to — headlines from our original news stories along with the lead paragraph and a photo.
4) Invite your friends to sign up for The Daily JOLT newsletter by forwarding it to them with a brief note, something like this:
“Did you know there is a new local news source for Lacey (or Tumwater or Olympia)?
They publish original stories at
www.theJOLTnews.com, and also send a daily local news summary (see the one I got tonight, below).
I’m recommending you take a look!”
5) Consider putting our fabulous 4” x 6” oval sticker on your car’s back window. Want one? Just reply to The Daily JOLT email and tell me where to mail it.
It looks like this:
The Journal of Olympia, Lacey & Tumwater – The JOLT – is here to tell the many stories of the communities we serve. If you agree that having an independent, fair, creative and locally owned news source helps make Thurston County better, will you support us?
Here are some ways The JOLT is different:
- It’s FREE — No paywall
- Local decisions
- Local news
- Facts are checked.
- Local features about local people
doing interesting stuff
- Encourage conversation between
- Leave stories up forever
- All stories are searchable
- No distracting clickbait or junk ads
- Local advertising and sponsors
- Seeks multiple perspectives (why the
‘J’ in JOLT is purple)
- Seeks to publish multiple
perspectives together, same day. ◆
Sign up Today!