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From the Editor

From the editor: Journalism, like freedom, is not free

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It’s not often that I get called out by name in a letter to the editor submission. It’s even rarer when I run such a letter since they tend to be along the line of personal attacks and rants rather than productive discourse.

But this week, reader Marc Levin directs a number of questions and concerns to me specifically and I feel like they deserve some discussion.

Marc raises two issues that have caused quite a bit of discussion in journalism circles lately. One is the fascinating, and depressing, article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine about how a somewhat murky hedge fund called Alden Global Capital is snapping up distressed newspapers and squeezing whatever life remains in them for the sake of a quick buck.

The other is news that the Wall Street Journal published a lengthy letter from Donald Trump in which he details his now-familiar stew of lies, distortions and fulminations about the 2020 election. The Journal ran the letter with no disclaimer, rebuttal or commentary, despite the fact that their own reporters and editors have reported publicly that it’s all a bunch of pernicious nonsense.

I’ll get to the third thing that Marc raises in a moment, since it is arguably the most important point of all, but he asks me directly what my opinion and policy is on these two items.

As far as the ownership of newspapers, there is simply no question that all news organizations have taken a savage beating by changes in the ad market and the advent of the internet, as I have discussed in this column many times. We here at the Register have a fraction of the staff we had as recently as when started as editor in 2014.

I have no idea what is in store for the Register, or what the leaders of our parent corporation are likely to do, but I can say with confidence that I don’t fear the kind of sad fate that awaits once-mighty giants like the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune, or the local Vallejo Times-Herald, all of which have fallen into the clutches of Alden.

Lee Enterprises, which owns the Register, was founded as a media company in 1890 and remains a media-oriented company today. Much as we have all had to squeeze to meet the new economic reality, the company displays a deep interest in maintaining local coverage. They have taken steps to try to build back some of the capabilities we lost as the ad markets crashed, providing centralized national, features and sports coverage, developing centralized layout, graphic design and web operations, and regionalizing expensive business and HR operations.

More importantly, the company has an ambitious plan to build a sustainable base of subscriptions to fund the paper. It’s a long, agonizing process, but the company seems committed to follow it through, which speaks to a kind of future-oriented thinking that Alden shows no interest in.

As far as the Wall Street Journal, I can only guess at what they were thinking. On one hand, a direct insight into the former, and perhaps future, president of the United States is a rare and important thing. But on the other, what he was saying was a bunch of obvious, and potentially dangerous, nonsense.

I don’t know how I would react if presented with such a letter. It is possible I might refuse it outright, as I have done with similar letters from people not named Trump. It’s possible I might have published it, given his importance in the national discourse, but I would have at minimum done so with a strong disclaimer and specific correctives. There is no way, however, that I would have run such a letter with no commentary or answer.

Now, to Marc’s third point.

He asks me directly “how can we help you survive to provide this most essential service, for how can the community make informed decisions if they are not informed?”

The answer is simple. Subscribe. Tell your friends and family to subscribe. Subscribe to the Register and any other newspaper or magazine from which you derive useful information and enjoyment.

Advertising used to fund almost all of what newspapers and other news outlets do. Now it is up to you to vote with your feet, or more accurately, your subscription dollars.

This isn’t a new idea either. If you are a regular listener or viewer of public radio and TV, you know that for five decades they have spent time every few months making the case for you to donate money to keep their operations afloat. They call it “membership,” but the effect is exactly the same as a subscription.

We know that the traditional print subscription is getting more expensive all the time, and not everyone can afford the cost. That’s why we have a variety of online subscriptions, ranging from a few dollars per month up to deluxe packages that include lots of extra features and perks.

I am sure we can find a subscription offer that meets your needs and budget. Please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/ to see our standard rates and any special deals we may be running.

Every dollar and every subscriber counts. The future of the Register and so many other news outlets is squarely in your hands.

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​You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.

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Editor

Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.

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