What is the product of a news organization?
I have a very different answer to this question than 99.9999% of journalists that you’ll meet.
It’s an answer borne out of disappointment. One annealed in the bowels of hedgefundland.
The product of a news organization is TRUST. And I, as LebTown’s publisher, believe that every decision I make must be made with that core objective in mind.
It’s no secret today that America faces a local news crisis. But it also faces a trust crisis. AND a business model crisis. Which one of these do you think is paramount?
For me, the work must start and end with trust. The data bears this out clearly. Long before Craig Newmark came to steal newspapers’
lunch classifieds revenue… Long before Randall Smith began his decades-long Mr. Burns cosplay… Long before Donald Trump was anything but our favorite cameo in Home Alone II… Americans lost their trust in the media.
Maybe it’s a me (the media) problem, not a you (the reader) problem?
The trust held by the average American in the media remains today hovering around an all-time low, rolling steadily downward since a post-Watergate peak.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers of what got us here. But I do know that what got us here won’t get us there, and with LebTown I’ve tried to set the stage for an outlet that could be resilient to the same forces that have wreaked such havoc on the local news industry.
What would it look like to design a news organization with trust in mind? What would it mean to optimize for trust?
For one, it would mean that maintaining local ownership must be the organization’s birthright. LebTown’s newsroom never has been and never will be “for sale.” For another, it would mean eschewing the privacy-invasive advertising practices that proliferate elsewhere on the web. And those click-chasing tactics pioneered by BuzzVoxViceWorthy? Thanks, but no thanks.
Optimizing for trust calls for us to be antifragile and embrace critique and change so long as our core mission remains true.
In a media landscape rife with misinformation, trust is the key to producing and distributing high-impact journalism in a tight-knit community.
Considerations regarding trust have to be made in every single decision we make as an organization, from what we cover (or don’t cover) and how we frame and report stories, to how we monetize and distribute our content, who we work with, and so much more.
I come from a blogging background and built Onward State in a very different image and a very different time.
Back in ’08, I took for granted that newspapers would figure out this internet thing and become good businesses again. Last year the country was losing two newspapers a week.
While I still believe in blogging, I didn’t realize at the time that our foundation would erode. Most news stories can be sourced back to newspaper reporting. A house built on sand is no place to live.
Maybe in time, a younger version of me will come along and she’ll build the equivalent of Onward State for Lebanon County – something more opinionated, an outlet with its own clear perspective on what’s right, what’s wrong, as opposed to simply reporting the ascertainable facts. With any luck, we’ll see two or three of these outlets pop up. There is a real role for this type of journalism.
We don’t have that factual foundation yet, and we actually have quite a ways to go. But we will get there. Our focus is clear and unimpeded.
LebTown exists to provide a common set of facts for our community. To be the foundation of a stronger civic discourse. To make Lebanon County a better place.
Our vision is an informed, connected, and empowered Lebanon County
By providing the factual lens through which communities view themselves, newspapers are hugely important for the formation of imagined communities, helping us to understand each other and ourselves, and to feel more connected.
LebTown is local news produced for and by the residents of Lebanon County. Our team is proud to be continuing a long and honorable tradition of journalism in Lebanon County (see a list of outlets below). It’s the type of reporting that has made our communities stronger for generations.
And, quite frankly, it’s the type of reporting that needs your support.
Last week I announced LebTown’s Countywide Campaign, an ambitious effort to reach 1,000 active members by the time our fifth birthday rolls around in April.
Read More: Introducing the Countywide Campaign
We need your help.
If you aren’t a member, please consider joining us today. Members are the heart and soul of LebTown, and in addition to the deep satisfaction of being champions for local news, they get special benefits like the ability to comment on articles, purchase exclusive merchandise, and receive members-only email newsletters. And when LebTown comes together for in-person events, those will be members-only as well.
For a quick and simple one-time contribution, head here. (Please note that one-time contributions are not eligible for member benefits.)
If you’re already a member, THANK YOU! We’re looking forward to seeing you in the new members-only Discord channel, and can’t wait to see your merch purchases out in the wild. Remember, you can always reach us with any questions about your membership at email@example.com.
Part of this campaign includes making asks of the folks who can support us more to do that. So if that’s you, please consider supporting the 2023 LebTown Civic Impact Reporting Project, which we jointly run with the Local Media Foundation.
In 2022, the first Civic Impact Reporting Project raised more than $10,000 from over 100 donors, a heroic feat of generosity by our community that made possible LebTown reporter Emily Bixler’s coverage of Cornwall Borough, South Londonderry Township, and North Lebanon Township.
Become a donor and you’ll be able to provide your vote on which municipalities we prioritize for expanded coverage.
You can also mail checks directly to the Local Media Foundation. More information about mailing a check and other details of LebTown’s fiscal sponsorship with the Local Media Foundation can be found here.
As we continue LebTown’s Countywide Campaign, you can expect to be hearing next from other members of the LebTown newsroom introducing themselves and their work. I’ll be back next month with a column on another of LebTown’s core values – Seek Truth and Report It. Until then, you can reach me using the contact form at the bottom of this article or by shooting an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading LebTown,
Selected Lebanon County Newspapers, 1807 – Present
Der Freymüthige Libanoner (The Free Lebanoner) 1807 • Der Libanoner Morgenstern (The Lebanon Morning-Star) 1808 • Der Weltbohe und Unparteyische Libanoner Wochenschrift (the World Messenger and Impartial Lebanoner Weekly) 1809 • Lebanon Courier 1819 • Der Libanon Demokrat (The Lebanon Democrat) 1827 •Der Wahre Demokrat (The True Democrat) 1837 • The Lebanon Advertiser 1849 • The Star 1862 • Der Pennsylvaniaer (The Pennsylvanian) 1865 • Lebanon Valley Standard 1871 • Lebanon Daily News 1872 • The Annville Journal 1888 • Lebanon Daily Report 1890 • Fredericksburg Herald 1894 • Semi-Weekly Report 1894 • Lebanon Semi-Weekly News 1894 • Palmyra Record 1899 • The Star Advertiser 1900 • Evening Report 1901 • The Daily Republican 1903 • Lebanon Courier and Semi-Weekly Report 1908 • The Lebanon Tribune 1910 • Palmyra Citizen 1911 • Der Foulke-Freund (The Folk-Friend) 1927 • Swatara Times 1928 • Lebanon County Press 1928 • New Enterprise 1936 • Progressive Weekly 1937 • Lebanon County Bulletin 1939 • The Lebanon Evening Star 1945 • Lebanon Valley Register 1945 • Tomahawk 1951 • The Record 1964 • Lebanon Weekly News 1967 • Community Courier 1989 • Palmyra Chronicle 1990 • Mt. Gretna News 1990 • Fishwrapper 1995 • LebTown 2018
Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
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Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.
Portions of this editorial have been adapted for reuse.