Brian Messing, Editor-in-Chief
“Transitional change from the print to digital has cost approximately 36,000 jobs,” said Dusti Demarest, Executive Editor of the Olympian. Last Wednesday, Saint Martin’s University hosted the annual Les Bailey Writer’s Series in the Norman Worthington Conference Center. The event was notably different this year. Instead of inviting one writer to the series, this year’s event was the first to feature a panel of three. Additionally, the panelists were the first journalists to be featured at the Les Bailey Writer’s Series ever. The theme of the night was Print Journalism: Past, Present, and Future.
Before the panel made their remarks, Demarest spoke on the state of the Olympian, the local newspaper in the Olympia-Lacey area. In its heyday, Demarest noted that The Olympian had almost 50,000 subscribers and a bustling newsroom with many journalists. Today, however, our local newspaper is in a much more delicate state, “The Olympian has considerably reduced in size, leaving only three full time employees with two freelancers which help cover different beats of content,” said Demarest.
Additionally, The Olympian no longer has its own sports section, sharing content with the Tacoma News Tribune. The editorial staff is also significantly smaller than it once was. Demarest, who took the title of “Executive Editor,” upon being hired, refers to herself as “the Editor,” because there are no other editors at The Olympian.
Across the country, many areas are now being referred to as “news deserts.”
According to Demarest, a “news desert” is “[a place where]…one cannot find newspapers in a nearby vicinity.”
As local newspapers go out of business, it becomes increasingly more difficult for people in smaller communities to find access to print media.
After Demarest spoke, John C. Hughes addressed the room. Hughes’ experience in journalism contributed a lot to the Les Bailey Writer’s Series. His first job at a newspaper was as a paperboy. From there, he worked his way up to editor over a long career. However, in 2008, Hughes left The Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash. to become Washington’s Chief Historian.
When talking about why he left the newspaper business, Hughes said, “I received a call informing me that our profit margin had dropped below 20 percent to 19.8 percent.”
Hughes was pressured to lay off staff to return to the 20 percent profit margin, and was dismayed by the request. Within just a few days, Hughes was offered the position of State Historian at the secretary of state’s office, and decided to take it. Today, he writes biographies of historic Washingtonians, but remains closely connected with journalists in Washington.
The second panelist was Rachel La Corte. La Corte has worked for the Associated Press as a correspondent for over 20 years. La Corte started her career in Florida and covered numerous events such as the 2000 presidential election recount and the deportation of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. Today, La Corte covers Washington State politics in Olympia at the capitol. La Corte works in the capitol press houses. When La Corte arrived in Olympia, the press houses were bustling with reporters. However, today they are run down, and only a few correspondents occupy them.
La Corte led a lawsuit against the legislature that is currently before the Washington State Supreme Court to force the legislature to comply with the Public Records Act. La Corte noted that the legislature is the only institution in the state that is not obligated to comply with the act, despite the executive branch (including all executive agencies) and the judicial branch complying. La Corte also remarked upon the irony in suing the same people that she is assigned to report on, but also reminded everyone that that is part of the job of being a journalist.
The third panelist was Lynda Mapes. Mapes works for the Seattle Times and has covered a variety of issues relating to tribal and environmental matters. Mapes’ most famous work was her series on the plight of the orcas in Puget Sound, most notably the story of a mother orca that carried its dead calf for days. She noted during her speech that she is now referred to as “the orca lady” for her coverage of the story. Mapes also stated that her goal with the orca story, or any story, is to help the reader imagine and feel close to whatever she is covering, so that they are able to connect to it on a personal level that allows them to understand it better.