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These Days We Get Our News Wherever We Can


What a topsy turvy world this has become.

I say that after having just read a fascinating article about the dramatic decline in traditional news outlets. But the source wasn’t a traditional news outlet itself, or one of the newer ones springing up to plug the widening hole, and not even a blog or website devoted to covering the latest developments in journalism in the U.S.

Instead, it was an article in the current issue of the Hewlett Foundation’s newsletter. Titled Searching for the Future of Civic Journalism Experiments Blossom, But Solutions Are Elusive, the article is both a detailed and grim picture of how fast both newspapers and reporting jobs are disappearing in the United States. One of the most helpful features of the article is a link to a website called Paper Cuts, where you can find an interactive map that “tallies every newspaper in the country that has closed and every newspaper employee who has lost a job since 2007.”   For example, through mid-July, Paper Cuts reports that “the number of jobs lost this year alone stood at 1,892.”

After reading the article, I began to
think about how these days we get our news and information from wherever we can find it, and the list of nontraditional sources is changing by the day.  Clearly we need to add to that list foundation
publications, which in the past might have simply been sources for the latest updates about that organization’s work. Of course, the Hewlett report presents an overview about some exploratory efforts to help solve the problems facing American journalism, and the bigger threat to society if we lose “routine access to the public information that
newspapers once provided.”  But, at the same time, it presents information I hadn’t seen anywhere before, including the link to Paper Cuts, which I’ve now bookmarked, so I can check back regularly.

No doubt there are many other fine examples of foundations that recognize the unique opportunity they have to not just tell their great stories about their work or their grantees, but also to use their publications — print or online — to inform people on issues we need to know about, and perhaps in more depth or with greater objectivity than they might have in the past. And especially if no one else is reporting on those topics in similar depth.

I even recall even suggesting something to that effect some years ago — but with some trepidation for fear I was going out on a shaky limb — when the Network published a study on fledgling forays by foundations into the then-brave new (and pre-Twitter) world of web 2.0 Back in 2008, in the foreword to Come on In the Water’s Fine-An Exploration of Web 2.0 Technology and Its Emerging Impact on Foundation Communications, I wrote the following:

As others who are studying the changing media landscape have pointed out, people are becoming less and less dependent on traditional outlets for their news and information. They are turning to other credible places and sources. There is no reason foundations cannot be part of that mix and use that development to their advantage.

As they used to say in a lot more places than they do today:  “let the presses roll.”

–Bruce Trachtenberg

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