Journalism is a team sport.
— Pete Hamill
Where do you get your news?
There’s a question that means something different than it did not so awfully long ago (as recently, even, as the summer of 2011, when Weld for Birmingham published its first issue). To begin with, it’s one that has been complicated by a couple of highly disruptive trends in the world of media.
First, there is the proliferation of “content,” as distinct from news. Put another way, we are confronted increasingly with information being presented as news, whether or not it is correct, or whether it has any redeeming value for readers/viewers and for the community at large. Success is measured by page views and “likes” and click-through rates and the raw number of comments generated.
Admittedly, actual news — journalism — filters through this construct occasionally. But finding it, let alone understanding all of its details and nuances in proper context, can be akin to panning for gold. You have to know what you’re looking for, and you have to avoid being distracted by the fool’s gold that clutters the media landscape, dazzling to the eye and insatiable in its claim on your time and resources, but completely worthless.
The other phenomenon is one that has been picking up steam for nearly a quarter-century — driven relentlessly along, like the “content” explosion, by the undiscriminating beast that is the internet. The rate of descent has lately attained the momentum of a large boulder barreling down a long, steep hill, with little or nothing to check its obliterating tumble to the bottom.
We’re talking about the rise of hyper-partisan “media organizations” — groups and individuals affiliated with a particular political party or movement or ideology or private vested interest — masquerading as news outlets. We’re talking about the scourge of the extraordinarily turbulent and uncertain times in which we live, fake news.
If nothing else, Americans are united in our full-throated disparagement of fake news. We condemn misinformation, prevarication, and the willful distortion and misrepresentation and outright abandonment of verifiable facts. We do this even as we disagree in the most passionate of terms over what the actual facts are, and where we might find them without fear of being fed a bogus product — over the question of just who it is that’s faking whom.
One outgrowth of all of this has been an incessant and pervasive hardening of opinion, one consequence of which is the deterioration of consensus and the growing inability — or outright refusal — to continue viewing the United States of America as a political whole. Another is the loss of faith (what else to call it?) in journalism as an American institution and a cornerstone of our democratic republic, and in the dedication of journalists to fulfilling their essential mission — that of providing the public with news about the issues and events and institutions that affect their lives, and their ability to function as informed citizens.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the very future of American journalism is in question. There are questions about its ability to survive, and even its very nature and purpose in the ever-braver new world of the 21st century, when the ability to get our “news” only from sources that do not challenge our beliefs and prejudices makes it so tempting to save ourselves the intellectual exertion of becoming informed past a certain, ideologically determined point — and to respond with defensiveness, contempt, and hostility when met with viewpoints that differ from our own.
That is precisely why journalism is important. It’s why news — real news, actual facts, gathered and packaged and disseminated to the general American public by demonstrably trustworthy sources — has never been of greater value or more urgent necessity than at this very moment in our history.
And it’s why the value and necessity of journalism is most evident — and most critical — at the local level. That’s where the availability of accurate, reliable news impacts people’s lives most directly. That is where the mission of journalism has the greatest and most constructive impacts.
To narrow down the question I asked at the outset: Where do you get your news about Birmingham?
Over the past five years and more, Weld has built and burnished a reputation for publishing news and feature stories that are important to readers throughout the Birmingham area, and beyond — that are accurate, reliable, and conducive to an informed community. For an ever-growing number of people, Weld has become the most reliable and trusted means of staying informed not only about what is happening in Birmingham, but also why it is happening, what it might mean, and where it fits into the overarching picture of our community’s past, present and possible futures.
Readership of our newspaper, Weld for Birmingham, has grown steadily. So has our paper’s distribution footprint in Birmingham and surrounding municipalities — most notably to the south and west of the downtown-Southside core, where our immediate and sustained success with readers provided the basis for the strategic growth and expansion we have achieved. With our growing presence has come a growing acknowledgement of the unique role Weld fills in the Birmingham media landscape.
Weld is positioned to continue that growth. To cover more news and reach more people. To help protect the public interest and promote the best and highest possible uses of public resources. To hold public officials and institutions — and people and entities that do business with our local, county and state governments — accountable for the uses of public dollars and resources. To increase our contribution to well-being and progress that touches all corners of the community we serve. To fulfill our mission while keeping our newspaper and website free to the public.
To ensure that local journalism doesn’t just survive, but flourishes.
That’s why Weld is committed to a growth strategy aimed at establishing the long-term viability of independent local journalism as a self-sustaining business model. That’s why we’re launching an initiative called The Fourth Check (having obvious reference to the historical status of the free press as the “fourth estate,” or fourth branch of government, acting in the public interest, and to the place of journalism in the system of checks and balances that maintains the equilibrium of our government and society).
What is The Fourth Check?
The Fourth Check is a direct appeal from Weld to our readers. We’re asking you to help us offset some of the costs directly associated with maintaining the quality and variety of the community-oriented journalism Weld provides each week — and with our plans for bringing you more of it in the future.
We believe that journalism in the 21st century is a critical community enterprise. That means that journalism exists for the benefit of the community — and that it receives support from the community in return.
We’re asking you to join Weld in that enterprise. We’re asking you to take an active part in the life of Birmingham — now, and for the future — by supporting the vital work of local journalism through a contribution to The Fourth Check.
With your commitment — and those of thousands of others in the Birmingham area and beyond who value Weld’s presence in, and contributions to, our community — we will secure $300,000 in support of our three-year initiative to preserve and expand the presence and reach of the kind of journalism Birmingham needs. And which — frankly, and without disparaging any of the numerous other sources of legitimate local journalism — Birmingham would not have in Weld’s absence.
Over the next three years, community funding for The Fourth Check will ensure Weld’s ability to:
- Expand our editorial staff. Ultimately, Weld’s ability to expand its reach, influence, and range of coverage boils down to “boots on the ground.” Accordingly, we want to be able to employ additional reporters at competitive salaries, and also provide appropriate — and overdue — salary/fee adjustments for current editorial staff and key editorial services contractors.
- Print more newspapers. To meet growing demand, we will increase our weekly print run incrementally, starting in the second quarter of 2017, when we will begin putting an additional 1,000 newspapers on the streets each week.
- Continue expansion of Weld’s distribution footprint. Our commitment to printing more papers and getting them into more locations throughout the Birmingham area will increase our distribution costs.
In addition to these three objectives, your support of The Fourth Check — of the future of community journalism in Birmingham — will help us ensure that Weld remains a free newspaper. That accessibility to anyone who cares to read what’s in our pages — most especially those for whom paid access to news and information that affects their lives is very much a luxury — was a founding premise of our company, and has been key to the ongoing growth of our readership and distribution.
Through your support, you’ll also be helping to position Weld for self-sufficiency past the three-year term of this initiative. To the extent that The Fourth Check is successful in its objectives, as outlined above, Weld also benefits on the business side. Building on the platform The Fourth Check provides for revenue expansion, Weld’s advertising base will grow accordingly. We’ll also continue to develop and build on key partnerships with local businesses and organizations, and to strengthen and expand our network of associations and influence on the business side.
Where do you get your news about Birmingham?
If you’re reading this, chances are that you already get more of it from Weld than from any other source. We hope you’ll join us in this critical community enterprise — in making the news you rely upon available to more people, in more locations, throughout the Birmingham area.
We appreciate your readership and your support. Thank you.