Alert readers of the Mercer Island Reporter have already noted that there have been several stories about the activities of the state Legislature in these pages since January. The Reporter has not been staffed to follow the Legislature over the past couple of years. But this year and last, a number of community papers banded together to fund a small group of student reporters to follow the fortunes and foibles of Olympia through the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA). This session, we have Kaylee Zabel and Zoey Palmer reporting for us, overseen by regional editor emeritus, Frank Garred.
In the not so distant past, the state Legislature was a topic left to the urban dailies and their much larger staffs. But no more. We would all be at a loss now without the excellent coverage by The Olympian. But that kind of coverage costs money — money that newspapers no longer have.
As both urban and suburban papers have found their financial fortunes diminished, fewer dollars have been available to send reporters and photographers to our state Capitol. Subscriptions have fallen as readers have turned to the Internet. Advertisers and their dollars have followed.
To make up for readers gravitating to the Internet, some news outlets charged for access to their websites from the beginning of online news. After all, producing news electronically also costs money. Other publications, really most, hesitated to ask readers to pay for information. In other words, most newspapers lost out and missed the shift to charging for electronic news. Is it too late? Maybe not.
Late last week, the Seattle Times announced that it would now charge online readers for access to its sites. Subscribers of the print edition would have access for free. The Times hopes to recoup and recover some of what it has lost in staff and coverage.
For Mercer Island and other communities both large and small, the stakes for keeping up with state government has become more critical than ever. Whether it is funding state transportation networks to regulating the sale of marijuana to changing the law that manages how cities plan for growth — we need to keep up.