Behind the Herald-Leader’s Funding Plea: A Closer Look at Local Journalism’s Challenges

Hey there, folks in Central Kentucky. Let’s sit down and have a real talk about something that’s been on our minds here at The Lexington Times lately. You might’ve heard that the Lexington Herald-Leader, our big newspaper sibling, is reaching out, hat in hand, asking for a bit of financial help from us, the readers. Now, that’s something to ponder over your morning coffee.

Here’s the catch though – and it’s a big one. The Herald-Leader already keeps most of their stories locked behind a paywall. Everything from the high school football scores to those critical updates during storm season – it’s all under lock and key unless you’re dishing out some dollars. And now, they’re asking for more of our hard-earned money. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

In this piece, we’re not just going to talk about why they’re asking for more dough. We’re diving deeper, looking at what this means for local journalism, and why it matters to us – the folks living here in Central Kentucky. We’ll even explore constructive ways to keep journalism afloat while still making sure that crucial news is accessible to everyone, paywall or not. After all, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

The Paywall Problem

Now, let’s chew on this paywall issue a bit. We all know information is power, especially in our fast-paced world. But when that information comes with a price tag, not everyone can afford to stay in the loop. This is the tricky spot the Herald-Leader’s got us in.

Think about it. When there’s a big storm brewing or a road closure in town, that’s the kind of news that needs to be out there for everyone, free of charge. But with the Herald-Leader, if you’re not a subscriber, you’re out of luck. That’s not just inconvenient; it’s a problem for community safety and awareness.

Now, we get it. Journalism isn’t free to produce. Reporters, editors, all those folks need to get paid. But there’s got to be a balance, right? The question we’re all asking is, how much public good are we sacrificing for private profit? When crucial news is hidden behind a paywall, aren’t we creating a gap between those who can afford to know and those who can’t?

This isn’t just about getting the news. It’s about being part of the community. In Central Kentucky, we pride ourselves on looking out for each other. But how can we do that if we’re not all getting the same information? It’s like having a neighborhood meeting but only letting in folks who can pay the entry fee. That’s not the Kentucky way.

The paywall isn’t just a barrier to news; it’s a potential divider in our democratic process. When essential information, especially political coverage, is locked behind a paywall, it’s the less affluent members of our community who are left out. This creates a worrying class division in terms of who gets informed. More affluent voters have access to a broader range of information, potentially leading to a more informed voting decision.

This disparity could shape the political landscape in ways that don’t truly represent the entire community. In a democracy where every voice is supposed to count, paywalls can inadvertently silence those who can’t afford the price of admission, skewing the democratic process in favor of those with deeper pockets. As a result of this divide, some may develop distrust of our local democratic institutions.

So, as we look at the Herald-Leader’s call for extra funds, we’ve got to ask ourselves: are they contributing to this divide? It’s one thing to ask for support, but another to put essential news out of reach for many in our community. As we ponder their plea for funds, let’s keep in mind the bigger picture of what local journalism should be – accessible, informative, and, most importantly, inclusive.

The Herald-Leader’s Ownership and Financial Background

Alright, let’s pull back the curtain a bit on the Herald-Leader and see what’s going on backstage. The paper isn’t just its own little island; it’s part of a larger group owned by Chatham Asset Management. If that name rings a bell, it’s probably because they’ve been in the news themselves recently – and not for winning any community service awards.

Chatham scooped up McClatchy, the company that owns the Herald-Leader, back in 2020. And just a short while ago, they were making headlines for a whole different reason – settling some hefty charges with the SEC in April 2023. We’re talking more than $19 million in fines and penalties. That’s a lot of zeros, folks.

This brings us to a bit of a head-scratcher. The Herald-Leader, part of this big outfit with deep pockets, is now extending its hand asking us, the regular Joes and Janes, to cough up more cash. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Is their financial squeeze because of their parent company’s legal troubles? Or is there more to the story?

We’ve got to consider the possibility that this plea for funds might be less about keeping the lights on and more about balancing the books after a corporate stumble. It’s like if a rich uncle, known for splurging on flashy cars, suddenly asked you to help pay his speeding tickets. You’d want to know where all his money’s going, right?

This tangled web of ownership and financial issues is important because it affects how the Herald-Leader operates. When a big corporation holds the purse strings, you have to wonder if the newspaper’s really free to tell the stories that matter to us, or if they’re just another piece in a larger money-making puzzle.

So, as we think about whether to dig into our wallets for the Herald-Leader, let’s not forget who’s really behind the curtain and what that might mean for the news we’re getting – or not getting.

Promises vs. Reality in Coverage

A September 2022 Herald-Leader feature on Taco John’s opening at Brannon Crossing.

Now, let’s tackle what the Herald-Leader says they’ll do with our hard-earned money if we decide to chip in. They’re talking a big game about:

  • beefing up local coverage,
  • diving deep with investigative journalism,
  • and telling the heart-and-soul stories of our Kentucky folks.

It sounds great on paper, but let’s compare that to what’s actually been happening.

First up, their local coverage. It’s no secret that a good chunk of what passes for “local news” in the Herald-Leader often feels like a pat on the back for businesses around town. Sure, supporting local businesses is important, but when every other article reads like a hidden ad, you start to wonder: Where’s the real news? What about the issues affecting our day-to-day lives, the stories of regular folks, or the challenges our communities face?

Then there’s investigative journalism – the tough, gritty work that holds power to account. It’s crucial, but let’s be real: It’s not the Herald-Leader’s strong suit lately, especially when it might ruffle influential feathers locally. Investigative stories take guts and independence, something that can be in short supply when you’re worried about stepping on the toes of those who might be tied to your advertisers or corporate bosses. While the Herald-Leader might pledge to allocate some of their donations to bolster their investigative journalism, isn’t it worth considering whether these contributions might be more effectively spent at an organization whose primary aim is public service rather than profit-making?

And storytelling? We all love a good story, especially ones about people making a real difference in our communities. But if these stories are just feel-good pieces that skirt around the deeper issues, are we really getting the full picture? It’s like serving up a slice of pie without the filling – looks good at first, but leaves you wanting more.

This gap between what the Herald-Leader promises and what they deliver is something we can’t ignore. As readers, we deserve journalism that digs deep, that’s fearless and unflinching, that goes beyond surface-level cheerleading. We need stories that reflect the whole range of our experiences here in Central Kentucky, not just the ones that are convenient to tell.

So, as we weigh their request for donations, it’s worth asking: Are we funding a richer, more honest view of our world, or are we just helping to perpetuate a cycle of safe, surface-level reporting? The answer to that question might just determine where our support should go.

The Role of Local Journalism and The Lexington Times’ Vision

In the tapestry of local journalism, each thread – each story, each voice – matters. Here at The Lexington Times, we’re acutely aware of our role in this tapestry, and the limitations we face as a small outlet. We can’t cover every story, much as we’d like to. But our dream? It’s to see a thriving, robust network of nonprofit and collective journalism right here in Central Kentucky.

We’re small, but our commitment to the community is mighty. We focus on what we can do: telling stories that matter, reporting on issues that impact our neighbors, and holding the powerful accountable. Our size might limit our reach, but it also keeps us close to the ground, connected to the real, everyday experiences of the people we serve.

But imagine a future where local journalism in our region isn’t just about one or two outlets trying to do it all. Think about a network of nonprofit, independent newsrooms, each contributing their unique strengths and perspectives, all working collaboratively to paint the full picture of life in Central Kentucky. That’s the vision we’re excited about.

In this envisioned future, each outlet, including The Lexington Times, plays a part in a larger, more diverse narrative. This isn’t about competition; it’s about collaboration, where the success of one contributes to the strength of all. A network like this could mean more voices, more stories, and a richer, more nuanced understanding of our community.

We’re proud of what we do at The Times, but we’re also realistic about the challenges we face. We’re part of a larger ecosystem of local journalism, and we believe that the future of this ecosystem lies in collaboration, diversity of voices, and a shared commitment to the public good. Like cockroaches in a nuclear winter, some corporate news mega-conglomerates will never die. However, as they stumble and struggle to stay in touch with their audience, we in the community have an opportunity to build something better.

As we work towards this future, we invite you to join us – not just as readers, but as active participants in shaping a vibrant, informed, and connected Central Kentucky. Your support, your stories, and your voice are what will make this vision a reality. Let’s build this robust network of nonprofit and collective journalism together, for the benefit of our entire community.

How to Support Journalism Locally

As we wrap up this deep dive into the Herald-Leader’s plea for financial support, let’s circle back to the heart of the matter: the role and responsibility of local journalism. It’s clear that while the Herald-Leader is asking for help, there are other, perhaps more deserving, local journalism outlets that align more closely with the ideals of true public service journalism.

Before you consider opening your wallet for the Herald-Leader, think about these local gems who are doing exceptional work without the backing of big corporate players:

  • WEKU: This station is a Peabody award-winning National Public Radio-charter member and is licensed to Richmond, Kentucky. It serves central and eastern Kentucky, including the Lexington area. Owned by Eastern Kentucky University, WEKU primarily broadcasts NPR news and talk programming alongside locally produced content. This includes “Eastern Standard” as well as local news and stories focusing on arts and culture. (Donate here)
  • Kentucky Health News: An independent news service, Kentucky Health News is part of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky. It receives support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. This service focuses on providing valuable insights and reporting on health-related issues, which are especially critical to the residents of Kentucky.
  • Kentucky Lantern: Operating as a nonprofit, Kentucky Lantern makes its news and commentary available for free, without paywalls, and also allows for free republishing. It’s supported by individual and foundation donors who value local and state journalism as a public good. The Kentucky Lantern stands out for its commitment to independent journalism, emphasizing the importance of local and state news coverage and maintaining editorial independence.

Each of these outlets operates as a bona fide nonprofit, untethered from the complexities and potential conflicts of interest that come with hedge fund ownership. They’re on the ground, committed to delivering news and stories that matter to us, with the kind of authenticity and dedication that comes from genuine commitment to the community.

While the Herald-Leader’s situation may elicit sympathy, it’s crucial to consider where your support can have the most meaningful impact. Supporting local, independent journalism is about investing in the transparency, accountability, and community connection that form the backbone of a healthy, informed society.

And for those who dream of starting their own ‘Lexington Times’-style maverick online newspaper, we say: go for it! Journalism at its heart is about community service, and every new voice adds to the richness of our collective narrative. If you’re passionate about telling the true stories of Central Kentucky, we’re here to lend a hand. The Lexington Times is more than willing to offer technical and moral support to budding news ventures. Together, we can strengthen the fabric of local journalism, ensuring that our community’s stories are told by a chorus of diverse and independent voices.