We’re not much for New Year’s resolutions.
Most people who set such goals tend to cast them aside by early spring, and virtually none seem to survive until the dawn of the next year. They’re the kinds of commitments that sound good in the bleary-eyed recovery period after a New Year’s Eve celebration, but don’t carry enough substance to sustain our efforts.
Simply put, the stakes in local news simply are too high for setting marks we won’t or can’t achieve.
The past decade has been a difficult one in local news, especially for local newspapers. Consolidation, financial troubles and ownership changes have decimated local newsrooms — the number of journalists employed by newspapers has fallen by about 40 percent during the past decade. That’s a grim reality, especially considering local newspapers, by far, produce the lion’s share of original reporting in the United States.
That means, as droves of local newspapers shuttered their operations, and even more were stripped to the bone, many communities go without invested local journalists telling stories important to their neighbors and standing watch over local governments.
Don’t get us wrong, there still are many journalists in communities spread across our state and nation who put in a yeoman’s effort to serve their readers.
But in most places, there simply aren’t enough of us around to fulfill our most important functions as the Fourth Estate as imagined by the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America.
Yet, something is different in Traverse City.
The best local newspapers serve as a mirrors that reflect communities while recording history. That means reporting on the issues that affect our neighbors, asking tough questions and holding the people we elect to positions of power to account.
Thanks in large part to our supportive community and readers, the Traverse City Record-Eagle was spared from many of the difficulties our peers endured. We boast a newsroom full of talented, dedicated journalists who come to work everyday to report truths that without their efforts would go untold.
With that in mind, we want to begin this new year, this new decade, by making a few commitments to you.
With your continued support, we will be here.
We will continue to work tirelessly to provide the Grand Traverse region the journalism it deserves. The journalism that will ensure our democracy remains healthy.
What will that look like in 2020?
Well, for starters, we have begun work to expand our capabilities and our footprint through innovative new partnerships. The Record-Eagle recently was named a Report for America partner newsroom, and beginning in June will host a data journalist thanks to that relationship. And we’re working on other partnerships that would help us better serve northwest Lower Michigan.
We’re also committed to continuing the Record-Eagle’s proud tradition of holding local bureaucrats and elected officials accountable. We step into 2020 in the midst of a confrontation with executives and trustees with the Traverse City Area Public Schools who have worked to keep secret the documents that precipitated a taxpayer-funded payout as their newly-hired superintendent split with the district.
We believe you deserve to know the reasons for that split. The ones written in complaints by elected school trustees, not the spin woven by officials as they worked to tamp down public backlash.
We believe decisions made on our behalf should be exposed to the scrutiny of all, not just an elected and hired class of people who find themselves in the know.
That’s why last year, we spent more than $5,000 on public records requests on your behalf. This year, we expect to spend as much or more.
We set goals we intend to meet all the time, but the marks we set today are a little different.
The stakes are higher, and our commitments stronger.
Because we can’t imagine a Traverse City without its local newspaper, the local journalists who work every day to serve our neighbors, or all our subscribers and readers who support our efforts.