By JUDY PATRICK
NYPA’s vice president for editorial development
Count Margaret Sullivan among the journalists stunned by Pew Research Center’s new report finding that 71 percent of Americans think local media are financially thriving.
“To us of us in the newspaper business, it’s unbelievable to hear that,” Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Post, told journalists gathered in Albany in early April for the New York Press Association’s spring conference and trade show.
The Pew report, released in late March, also noted that just 14 percent of the 35,000 adults polled said they had paid for local news in the past year.
The reality is that local media, especially newspapers, have faced serious financial difficulties in the last 20 years. As revenues have fallen, many newspapers have closed while others have substantially reduced the size of their newsrooms.
For Sullivan, the Pew report underscores the need for the media to do a much better job of telling its story and making sure people understand its public service value.
Attacks on the press’ integrity, from President Donald Trump as well as via social media, have had an effect, she noted. “It’s really tough to see my beloved profession change so much in people’s eyes,” she said. She recalled her 12 years as a reporter and ultimately top editor at The Buffalo News. When she walked into the newsroom, she felt like she was walking onto sacred ground. “I had the sense that I was doing something noble and that people knew it,”
There is, nonetheless, room for some optimism, with journalism’s defenders stepping forth at both the national and community level, she said. But the industry needs to counter the onslaught of negativity and emphasize the value especially of what Sullivan calls the reality-based press, she said.
Sullivan offered journalists at the NYPA conference five suggestions for improving the public’s understanding of journalism:
1. Publish a regular editor’s column.
2. Be much more transparent about how we work.
3. Push back when our integrity is slammed. “It’s one thing to say ‘I respect and value your opinion.’ It’s a better thing to say ‘we’re a really important part of democracy and when you say that you are actually undermining one of the pillars of democracy’,” Sullivan said.
4. Seize every opportunity to talk to people in our communities about the journalism we do.
5. Tap into new platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to reach people we may be missing by relying on conventional platforms.
By JUDY PATRICK