Posted by Paul Casey on Mar 08, 2024

Former Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter and former KING 5 news anchor Mark Wright exchanged thoughts about the future of journalism before the Seattle Rotary Club #4 on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Prior to their joint appearance, Joni Balter set the stage by suggesting Rotarians ponder two questions. How many read or listen to one or more local news sources every day? How many of you read or hear something almost daily that makes you worried about the future of our country? Many hands were raised.

Joni said that we are facing the collapse of the news industry and its business models. She said this is happening at a time that we have an increasing need for objective information. Since 2005, the US has lost a third of its newspapers and two thirds of its news journalists. Misinformation thrives. On the plus side, there has been the emergence of hundreds of local digital sites, heavily focused on local coverage. She said we are fortunate to have the Seattle Times fighting hard for survival.

Joni applauded public radio stations and the Cascadia Daily News among others. A new digital daily print weekly newspaper in Bellingham is led by Ron Judd, a former Seattle Times reporter.

Joni sighted a Gallup Poll that asked people: “Where do you get your news?” Nearly half said it is on social media. She quipped that we should all start following Taylor Swift on X to see what's really going on.

Mark Wright and Joni Balter


Mark joined Joni and together they continued their discussion on the future of journalism.

Mark reflected that journalism used to cause people to gather at certain points in the day and we would all consume highly curated information at the same time.

He mentioned that a “free press” is mentioned in the Constitution, and he doesn’t think there are any other jobs mentioned in the Constitution.

Joni and Mark reminisced about the days when there were numerous reporters covering state and local government, not only in Washington but across the country. With the decline of the number of journalists covering state and local stories, there has been a rise in corruption.

It is estimated that Craigslist took classified ads away from newspapers. The newspapers lost 30-40% of their revenue almost overnight. Newspapers tried to fight the decline by giving away free content. According to Joni, that was a mistake. She said you cannot have people thinking content is free.

Both Mark and Joni lamented the lack of editing by many reporters. They also instill in students the importance of fact checking. It’s better to get it right, than being first.

Mark said that he has stopped engaging in social media on politics because there is no winning. He challenged the audience: After reading something on social media has anyone ever truly had their mind changed?

Both Mark and Joni agreed that X is dangerous. They quoted Mark Twain when he said. “A lie can travel halfway around the world, while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Mark and Joni spoke about the downfall of local news. They said Seatle news stations are showing some strength compared to other markets, but they are not optimistic about its future. The revenue model has changed rapidly. Mark said that at one time, hundreds of millions of dollars were divided among the bigthree local stations. There are now cable systems, satellite TV, streaming services, etc. competing for scarce dollars.

Mark said the way local news stations have stayed on the air is by severely cutting budgets. To survive they recruit younger people who are willing to work for less.

-Thanks for the amazing report this week, Paul!

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