As we continue our eternal vigilance over our free press and the freedoms of speech, peaceable assembly and the people’s right to petition their government and seek a redress of their grievances, we can report that it is not the freedom of the press that is at stake these days. What is at stake is the survival of the press itself.

Thousands of newspapers and over half of all newspaper jobs across America are gone, never to come back. The age of the internet and social media is killing these vital community institutions where TV, radio and the telegraph did not. Almost all surviving newspapers and local news organizations, like our own SoCoNews, are struggling with diminishing resources and decreased financial support.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

When the local press goes away, much more is lost with it. Local governments lose their sharp-toothed watchdog. A major economic driver to support shopping locally and partnering with local and independent businesses is stilled. Voter apathy, citizen engagement and volunteerism declines. Emergency lifelines of fact-based, comprehensive and time-tested public health, safety and crime reports go dark. A community without a dedicated local news source becomes a “news desert.” Facebook, Nextdoor and Twitter fill this void with unchecked facts, harmful rumors and divisive tactics.

This is a clarion call we have made here many times recently. While the challenges for our survival remain very stern, we can report with guarded optimism and continued hope that our readers and other community members have heard our plea and they have responded.

Thank you to our few thousands of daily newsletter readers and daily and weekly website visitors. Thank you to all our legacy newspaper subscribers for continuing to support us with voluntary donations and other forms of support. Thank you to our many community partners who share their news and announcements with our readers and us. And, thank you to some very generous individuals who have made significant contributions to our future financial health.

All of these investments in SoCoNews are actually investments in the local community. We are a community-based nonprofit, officially known as Sonoma County Local News Initiative, a 501c3 corporation. All money contributions, big and small, are tax deductible.

A free press must be independent. It must practice its journalism and news judgments with full transparency. SoCoNews presents the local news without favor to friend or foe. We treat the news as a public asset. We follow a professional code of journalistic ethics and we strive to encourage wide civic engagement and equal voices for all. We speak truth to power and we expect our readers to hold us fully accountable in all we do. Ask Facebook, Google or Twitter if they can make the same promises.

For all this, we ask for your continued support. In previous times — prior to the historical disruption of this digital age and the pandemic — presenting quality local news to the communities of north and west Sonoma County took a few million dollars each year. The methods of how we gather and present the news may have changed, but this financial need has not lessened.

Recently, thanks to our faithful donors and supporters, we have been able to bring back some newsroom resources. We still have a list of needs, but every one of them is designed to increase our news output and make our local news offerings better. As a community-based nonprofit, we will continue to share our financial reports and always ask you how we can better serve your news and information needs.

SoCoNews is led by an outstanding volunteer board of directors, made up of respected and well-known community leaders. These men and women represent the voices and visions of all our community members. They work to win the support of donors, partner organizations and national journalism foundations so our SoCoNews journalists can do the real work of gathering, writing, fact-checking and presenting real news.

Keeping our local press alive and sustainable is not something any of us can take for granted.

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