After quitting my job at a local newspaper several years ago, I became a regular reader of a curious, despondent breed of website that chronicled the death of my profession with the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour immediacy that was, ironically, the underlying reason my chosen career was going the way of the Dodo bird.

Some of those websites are still around, although I have generally kicked the habit of regularly reading them. Their names — Newspaper Death Watch, Angry Journalist, The Recovering Journalist — read like prescription drug warning labels or chewing tobacco disclaimers, telling you in no uncertain terms that the short-term guilty pleasure you get from wallowing in your profession’s demise could leave you with some long-lasting side effects.

There has been almost no good news coming from the newspaper industry over the last decade. Readership is shrinking, and most people now find their news online, where newspapers have yet to make enough advertising money to pay the bills. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like a telegram operator in the late 1870s, or the owner of a flock of carrier pigeons trying to argue that communication-by-bird is not a thing of the past.


But amazingly, several years ago I landed at a complete anomaly in the news industry — a truly locally owned, locally operated, community-minded newspaper.

Since joining Moonshine Ink, I’ve thought long and hard about the fickle future of journalism. And while many newspapers focus on the medium of news delivery (focusing their staff time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, video) my faith in the foundation of good journalism — the actual telling of good stories — is being renewed.

This is not just my view on local journalism. None other than “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett, in a letter to investors this spring, said he would invest in local newspapers and assured them that robust news coverage would remain the cornerstone of newspapers’ success.

“We do not believe that success will come from cutting either the news content or frequency of publication. Indeed, skimpy news coverage will almost certainly lead to skimpy readership,” wrote Buffett in a letter to investors in his multi-billion-dollar Berkshire Hathaway holding company. “Our goal is to keep our papers loaded with content of interest to our readers and to be paid appropriately by those who find us useful, whether the product they view is in their hands or on the Internet.”

There is no question that newspapers need to adapt to new technologies and reach readers in different ways. But that can’t supersede the very core of the newspaper business model — writing and reporting things of quality, depth, and insight.

It seems like we are adrift in a world of good stories, but it takes experience, skill, time, and money to commit to consistently delivering good journalism. To be honest, it is not a very good business in the money-making sense of the word. But the newspaper business has shown that slashing newspaper budgets and gutting newspapers of content is, in the long run, an even worse business model, a spiral toward irrelevancy that no amount of social media status updates will fix.

Even as newspapers face an uncertain future, my newfound optimism in the profession comes from a little local newspaper that is committed to a business model that focuses on good journalism as good business.

Even in our little, secluded corner of the world, that turbid mixture of power, money, ambition, and progress that makes up the complex human struggle is ever present. The greed, the selfless giving, the hunger for power, the dedication to service, the love, the pain, and the quest for acceptance and recognition are all ingredients in the soup of our local community’s stories. The challenge given to journalists — a challenge that seems to be taken up less and less these days, especially by local journalists — is to illuminate, explain, and describe how those driving forces are intertwined in the goings-on in our region. Sometimes these stories are told through the prism of a school district update — the eternal yearning of a generation to pass on a better life to their children, or the undeniable urge toward elitism, segregation, and exclusion — or through a story on local health care — the financial struggle that families endure to retain their health, and the mechanisms of industry and power and money that stubbornly refuse reform. Truly great journalists recognize the big themes of human existence embedded in our daily interactions and, without becoming overly eloquent blowhards, work to fit these stories into that broader, deeper, and universally shared human context.

One of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck, said, “The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit — for gallantry in defeat — for courage, compassion and love.”

I left journalism school with a passionate belief in the altruistic power of journalism and a desire to tell stories that matter. After a period of cynicism, I feel myself regaining that passion. Journalism is not some cure-all for the ills of human society. But I do believe, when done with passion and clarity and skill, it is an integral part of a truly successful community, and an invaluable resource in our eternal quest to understand ourselves and our surroundings. You can’t put a price tag on that. And you can be assured that good journalism will outlive Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, and that it will be driven into the future by people who value the skill and hard work it takes to tell good stories.

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  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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