I’m leaving journalism, but I’ll never forget all that work and people I met, or the range of chores that a newsroom handles.
The coverage of the Oroville spillway scare garnered us two awards from the California News Publishers Association.
That same year, we covered the Cascade Fire in Loma Rica. I met a man who barely made it out of his house alive. I met another who saved his neighbor’s house, battling the flames with pond water in a bucket.
I’ve uncovered a public official investigated for sexual assault, I’ve reported on developments in the resignation of a grand jury, I’ve written about jails and mental health and homelessness.
We cover too many deaths and meet dozens of family members and friends in mourning, who trust our intentions enough to re-open their wounds.
Our team takes your children’s pictures at the Peach Festival and Bok Kai parade and Sikh Festival and Christmas parade.
We send Public Records Act requests to local government agencies, request search warrants, pore over policies and ask tough questions. We root out wrongdoings and misuses of power.
This is amidst rapidly shrinking budgets and slashed staff and sometimes vitriolic online comments (I’ve been called names that would make you blush).
For a year, I had to work a second job.
It may be hard to imagine what journalists do if you’ve never met one. Especially if you’re looking for stories that fit within your bias.
But in my five years in the news industry, alongside people who are smart, tough, kind, I’ve come to know people who simply care for their communities and the power of the truth.
The truth, in and of itself, is an incredibly difficult thing to get to. Our job is to report facts with supporting evidence in the hope that it will form a truth: statements made by officials; supporting documents like agendas, policies, court records; comments from those who are affected; context. Like any employee in any industry, we make mistakes. But we work to quickly correct those mistakes and learn from them.
But at a time when fewer Americans pay for local news (fewer than 1 in 6), while also believing local news outlets are in good financial shape (3 in 4 believe this), it’s difficult to garner support. In fact, newsrooms cut 45 percent of their newsroom employees between 2008 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2018, U.S. newspaper circulation reached its lowest level since 1940. Even the audience for local TV news has declined.
The answer everyone points to is the Internet. But the product, whether on paper or on the web, has to be created and edited by people. And while digital ad revenue has grown exponentially, a majority of it goes to Facebook and Google rather than to publishers.
The fact is, if this local newspaper were to go out of business, there would be no meaningful coverage of Yuba-Sutter. When oversight fails – whether by government or police or companies – people turn to newspapers. I know this because I’ve received countless phone calls, emails, Facebook messages from people unsure where to go next -- looking for accountability or for a sense of justice or simply to share their story.
TV news and larger newspapers may come to Yuba-Sutter to cover a contentious issue or high-profile murder. But they won’t cover city council and board meetings, or annexation attempts, or city budgets, or small businesses, or citizen academies or court hearings or grand juries.
You may not always like what you read. But consider the facts laid out in the article, ask questions of the paper, elected officials.
Newspapers cannot improve or expand coverage or do investigations without financial support. More staff will ensure more in-depth coverage across more beats. More staff will ensure more eyes for editing. More resources will ensure more records requests and time spent digging through documents.
The only way to demand a better product is to help support it.
Rachel Rosenbaum worked in the Appeal’s newsroom up until Thursday, her last day. She most recently covered the public safety beat.