Mitchell Byars, the police and courts reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera, tweeted this month that he’s celebrating his 10th year with the Camera.
That’s the good news.
He also let us all know he makes somewhere between $40,000 and $45,000 per year.
Good thing he likes his job.
Many of the responses to Mitch’s tweet were supportive, showing empathy for his salary or disdain for Alden Global Capital (the New York hedge fund that owns the Camera that boasts more than a billion in managed assets). A few challenged Mitch to get a higher-paying job if he wasn’t happy — after all, what would Twitter be without the trolls.
The bigger picture here isn’t Mitch’s salary, but the slow, quiet death of journalism — especially local journalism — in America. The Fourth Estate is a critical element to a functioning democracy. That’s likely why the founding fathers protected it in the First Amendment to the Constitution, right alongside freedom of religion, of speech and of the right to assemble. I don’t see my chosen career protected in the First Amendment, and you likely don’t see yours.
I would also like to note the absence of hedge fund managers.
The founding fathers understood that democracy will do just fine without hedge fund managers, food service workers, administrative assistants, Uber drivers — or PR agency owners. All perfectly respectable ways to make a buck, but not protected in the Constitution.
Freedom of the press, however, is right there at the top. And it needs to be supported and kept there.
Throughout our history, it has been journalists who have alerted us to some of the most important issues. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein started the movement that took down a corrupt president through their work at the Washington Post. Ronan Farrow told the stories too many were too afraid to tell and helped put rapist (yes, that’s the word I’m choosing) Harvey Weinstein behind bars. Edward R. Murrow was part of a team that exposed the tyranny of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s unconstitutional attacks on American citizens in the 1950s. And a host of brave, embedded journalists brought the horrors of war into our living rooms through their reporting from Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s.
Local news is just as critical. Our own city of Boulder, Colorado — a wonderful place to call home, to be sure — is grappling with any number of critical issues, from the best solutions to provide help for our unhoused neighbors to finding affordable housing options for our teachers, nurses, bus drivers and anyone rapidly finding themselves priced out of their own hometown. There are lots of ideas, and only an informed community starting with a set of accepted facts can find the best way forward. For that, we need Mitch and others like him.
The Pew Research Center’s excellent “State of the Media” project tells an interesting story about newspapers. The headline for me: when looking at many forms, readership is holding steady if not climbing, but we have about half as many newsroom employees in 2020 as we did in 2010.
Is it any wonder when we grossly underpay award-winning journalists like Mitch Byars as he struggles to inform one of middle America’s most expensive cities?
And all this doesn’t even touch on the threats journalists face on a daily basis. Sadly, I’m not talking only about journalists embedded in war zones around the world. Journalists right here — your neighbors — are subjected to treatment no one should be expected to endure. From insults to threats to shootings in newsrooms like the Capitol Gazette in Annapolis, Md., make the job more than just low-paying. It’s dangerous.
And let’s retire phrases like “fake news” and “lamestream media.” Such nonsense is not an expression of a point-of-view — it’s simply a shortcut to thinking.
Watching local journalism slowly fade away is not something about which we should simply shrug our shoulders and move on. These people are storytellers and watchdogs in a single, tenacious package. They want to serve our community, and we need them.
Do something today. Subscribe. If you already subscribe, give a gift subscription to a friend or a classroom. Support journalism financially. Just because you can read, listen or watch for free, doesn’t mean you have to. On average, just one in 10 listeners to public radio financially support these efforts. Imagine what coverage could be like if that number doubled, to a still-too-low 20%. Don’t protest companies like Alden Global Capital by dropping your subscription, pay for your news and support the efforts of the newsroom. While we’re proud to work with journalists every day, this isn’t about our business.
This is about living in an informed society. This is about our democracy.