The latest rounds of large-scale layoffs at newspapers in cities such as Salt Lake City and Denver have drawn national headlines in recent months, but they are just the latest phase of a drastic years-long drop in the number of reporters covering local news. Here in DC, we are fortunate to have a number of news sources that report on major local news stories: The Washington Post, the City Paper, WAMU (with the newly relaunched DCist), WTOP, multiple television stations, community newspapers such as The Current and The Hill Rag, and varied local and special-interest websites and blogs.
But many of these outlets have fewer staff members and resources than they deployed a decade ago. In the case of The Post, a strategy focusing on building a broad national and global audience for its website has proved quite successful but has meant a reduced emphasis on DC and regional news. The end result of this diffuse media landscape is often an outsize emphasis on one or two major stories — such as the recent scandal that led to the resignation of the District’s schools chancellor — to the detriment of the many matters that go unnoticed and unreported, and the many stories that go untold.
Even though DC doesn’t share the kind of news desert that some communities face, there are serious gaps in the coverage that are obvious to those active in community affairs. The DC Line seeks to offer a first stop for residents to find the information they need to be active participants in hometown DC.
Our mission as a nonprofit, independent and nonpartisan news site is threefold:
- to provide high-quality journalism about local DC with coverage of subjects such as politics, public policy, schools, the natural and built environment, and arts and culture;
- to foster civic participation by offering a forum for civil public discussion;
- and to help provide the tools necessary for active engagement.
In these efforts, we aim to follow the example set by similar nonprofit sites across the country, such as Voice of San Diego, The Texas Tribune, MinnPost, VTDigger and Maryland Matters. Each has crafted a unique mix of offerings, as ours will — particularly given the District’s distinctive governmental structure that fulfills municipal, county and state functions, as well as its aspirations of becoming the 51st state.
Our original journalism will include profiles of interesting Washingtonians, many of whom are working in their way to improve life for the city’s residents. We will report on matters being considered by the DC Council — trying to do so before members have finalized legislation, leaving the public no further chance to participate in the process. We will seek to break down complex topics such as the DC budget and the Comprehensive Plan through sustained coverage, and we will work to bring attention to long-standing topics such as long-vacant properties. Our civic calendar will include public hearings, community meetings and advisory neighborhood commission agendas. We will strive to make our community calendar as robust as possible with concerts, festivals, discussions and film screenings. The site also includes a section with news releases of community interest (with tags enabling a search for those issued by a DC Council member or government agency, or those related to a topic such as transportation and education).
We hope our community forum will provide a place for our public officials, community leaders, nonprofits and residents to express their views on matters in the public discourse, as well as to highlight issues not getting the attention they deserve. A Facebook group provides another place to discuss these issues and let us know matters we should look into.
Though any vibrant news outlet is a work in progress, we are launching as a beta site, recognizing that we are in our infancy. As we hear from our audience, gain experience and obtain more resources, we expect to do better in fulfilling our initial goals — and to add new ones. Our ability to do so will require community involvement and support. That includes the kind of member-donor contributions that help fund public radio and television, but we also need our audience to spread the word about the site in the community: Please share our stories on social media and on neighborhood listservs. Sign up for our newsletter. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Tell your neighbors, friends and colleagues. Send us your story ideas, news releases and proposed commentary pieces. Let us know about community events. Once we launch our initial fundraising drive, become a founding member with a contribution at the level you can afford.