Opinion/ Comment

Opinion Article: “How local journalism can help protect the freedoms of a democratic society.”

Written by Terry Egger, former CEO and Publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Board member of the American Press Institute, Advisory Service Provider at iMEdD

If you are reading this, chances are you already believe in the importance of strong local journalism and the role it plays in keeping communities informed, and the manner with which it helps protect the freedoms of a democratic society.

However, the threats to local journalism in Greece and around the world are real, and there are many.  Perhaps the most fundamental disconnect is between the true value of local journalism and the ability to generate enough revenue to continue to support it.

Against this backdrop, here are three simple thoughts that can be built upon to help sustain local journalism.  These thoughts somewhat weave together the concepts of “Community,” “Storytelling” and “Fair Compensation.”

Understanding that there can be strength in numbers, the opportunity exists in Greece, and elsewhere, to build an even stronger “Community” of journalists who support and learn from one another.  The ability to share best practices, collaborate on big stories, or even just brainstorm ideas with one another can be very nourishing.

Recently, iMEdD invested in a comprehensive project to map all the local news media in Greece.  This mapping process is not intended to be a static directory, but rather a dynamically updated resource that will make it far easier for journalists around the country to connect with one another.  This is the type of tool that can help with the collaboration mentioned above.  You will have the opportunity to learn more about this project soon.

Journalists can also better use the power of “Storytelling” to gain more support for their work.  Frankly, while most journalists are good at telling the stories of others, they are not very good at telling their own powerful story.  This goes right to the heart of being sure you work to establish the true value proposition of your journalism in the communities you serve.

Strong local journalism is in fact extremely valuable in ways that a vast majority of citizens simply don’t think about, and they are largely unaware of the fragile economic state of local news.  Like the air we breathe, it is easily taken for granted. 

“Stated another way, like any true value proposition, to be fully appreciated one needs to picture a scenario in which strong independent local journalism no longer exists. What would the consequences be?”

This is where the power of storytelling comes into play.  Picture all the opportunities where you can share the cause and effect of the impact of local journalism.  Where you can also speak to the need for economic support.  This can be done at meetings in the communities you serve; at themed events you can host; or even as brief tag lines at the end of each piece of journalism.

By raising the awareness in your communities, you can also raise the level of engagement and support you receive.  There are many examples of the audience and economic impact of this type of storytelling now going on around the world, and journalists in Greece are in a perfect position to follow suit. Journalism simply can’t expect to be appreciated and financially supported unless we explain our value proposition and specifically ask for economic support.

Just one simple but very powerful example of this type of storytelling can be found at the end of every article that appears in The Guardian from the U.K.  Their concise and consistent messaging has led to a vastly increased and engaged audience and enormous economic contributions from their readers.

Finally, there is a very strong argument to be made, that the time has come in Greece for there to be “Fair Compensation” to local media and journalists from those who unfairly profit from your work.  Here of course I am referring to the major dominant digital platforms like Facebook and Google.

For far too many years, these dominant players have been essentially free riding and generating enormous audiences and revenue by redistributing the journalism produced by others, without providing meaningful compensation. Well that scenario is now changing in many countries around the world, and therefore there is already a precedent set and a playbook to be followed for Greece.

In just the past few years the government in countries like Australia, Canada, France and others (legislation is pending in the U.S.) have passed legislation that now require (in varying forms) for these major platforms to begin paying substantial amounts of money to media companies for the use of their content.

“We all want the benefits of living in a society that enjoys freedom of the press, however producing strong journalism certainly doesn’t happen for free. Therefore, is it not only fair, but essential that those who profit from the work of journalists now pay their fair share.”

The opportunity in Greece is here right now to follow what other countries have done in this regard.  At a time when the revenue to support local news is so scarce, if local media and the government can work together and follow the lead already set, this could be a very meaningful new revenue stream to support local news.