Editorials

KPLU sale would mean less news for the Northwest

From the editorial board

A packed crowd gives a standing ovation to KPLU news director Erin Hennessey at the radio station's Community Advisory Council meeting on Monday in Seattle.
A packed crowd gives a standing ovation to KPLU news director Erin Hennessey at the radio station's Community Advisory Council meeting on Monday in Seattle. The Seattle Times

Pacific Lutheran University will pocket $8 million by selling its outstanding public radio station, KPLU, to the University of Washington. But that’s offset by the loss of a distinct voice in Northwest journalism.

The sale itself isn’t the problem. PLU could use the money. The college fills an essential niche in the South Sound’s higher education ecosystem.

What will hurt is the shutdown of KPLU’s news operation. The UW wants the station’s large regional fan base but doesn’t want to maintain its staff of reporters, news hosts and news directors.

Some might be able to land jobs at the UW’s station, KUOW. That’s small consolation for the end of KPLU’s independent coverage of education, health, business, crime and the environment in Western Washington.

Here’s why this matters:

What’s happening to KPLU’s news team has been happening across the United States for the last decade. Battered by the Great Recession and the migration of audiences to the Internet, America’s traditional news operations – The News Tribune among them – have collectively been forced to shed many thousands of professional journalism jobs.

That would merely be tough luck for those companies if new digital media were picking up the slack. Many traditional media companies – The News Tribune among them – have successfully migrated to the Internet themselves. But online news rarely attracts the kind of advertising revenue that the old media once enjoyed.

The result: shrunken newsrooms and fewer reporters and news editors. With fewer reporters, there’s less news. Pardon the sarcasm, but it’s remarkable how much less scandal there is in government and the corporate world now that fewer journalists are on the lookout for it.

The Web creates an illusion of abundant news. There is in fact an abundance of commentary about the news; political websites and blogs are saturated with punditry and ideological spin. There’s also a lot of news that’s been recycled, aggregated, tweeted, repurposed and attached to ads on the Web. But there’s less real bedrock information out there than it appears.

Original reporting – digging up important facts about the world that the public doesn’t already know – is getting especially tough to come by on the local and regional level.

It usually takes full-time, skilled professionals to ferret out stories, especially stories that powerful institutions and people don’t want told. News is the oxygen that a healthy democracy breathes. Citizens who feel uninformed about local issues and candidates often don’t vote.

We’re sorry to see KPLU’s newsroom about to fold. Less news is bad news for the Puget Sound region.

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