Writing in the Washington Post, Rachel Maddow uses Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal—uncovered by a local New Jersey transportation columnist—as a springboard for urging readers to financially support local newspapers:
Most of the time, national news happens out loud: at news conferences, on the floor of Congress, in splashy indictments or court rulings. But sometimes, the most important news starts somewhere more interesting, and it has to be dug up. Our democracy depends on local journalism, whether it’s a beat reporter slogging through yet another underattended local commission meeting, or a state political reporter with enough of an ear to the ground to know where the governor might be when he isn’t where he says he is, or a traffic columnist who’s nobody’s fool.
It’s annoying to pay for information — I know. But if you don’t subscribe to your local paper or pony up to get behind its online paywall, who’s going to pay reporters to cover the news where you live? A free press isn’t that kind of “free.” An accountable democracy doesn’t work without real information, gathered from the ground up, about people in power, everywhere. Be inspired by the beleaguered but unintimidated reporters of Chris Christie’s New Jersey: Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.
And yeah, I agree with all that. But thanks to the way that Frank Blethen uses his editorial board to pimp for the corporatist agenda of his friends and his family, I simply cannot bring myself to put a dime in his pocket. To financially support the Seattle Times is to support a political and ideological agenda counter to that of a majority of Seattleites, and so as much as I don't want their newsroom to disappear, I continue to click past their paper-thin paywall without guilt.
What might turn me into a paying customer? Eliminate the editorial board! Or at the very least, cast away the tradition of printing unsigned editorials that claim to speak for the collective wisdom of our state's paper of record, but which really just represent the peculiar views of its publisher. Let the various editorial columnists speak in their own voices, under their own bylines. I'm okay with that. But to pretend that there is something especially credible about an unsigned editorial, simply because it speaks for the paper, is nothing but a propagandistic ploy.
Unsigned editorials are a vestige of an era when most cities had multiple daily newspapers representing multiple points of view; everybody knew which was the Republican paper and which was the Democratic or even Socialist. But they play no role in this era of one-newspaper towns other than to confuse the public about who is advocating what, and to what end.
If the Seattle Times were to end the practice of publishing unsigned editorials I would subscribe. And if The Stranger were to stop printing unsigned SECB endorsements, I'd be happy with that too. Having been on the losing end of my share of endorsement votes, I have no qualms about printing the vote count next to the endorsement. And in writing SECB endorsements, I gain no comfort from the anonymity the lack of a byline provides. In fact, I make a point of Slogging my dissent whenever I strenuously disagree with the SECB's decision, something I've never seen from a member of Blethen's editorial board.
I don't believe in objective, neutral, impartial, fair and balanced journalism. Not because it isn't a worthy goal, but because it is impossible. But any claim to objectivity that dailies may have is totally undermined by the institution of the unsigned editorial, which anonymously imposes the personal opinion of an individual—often the publisher—on the newspaper as a whole. The same journalists who decry anonymous trolling in their comment threads celebrate it on their op-ed pages. It is the most dishonest thing a newspaper does. It taints the newsroom and sullies the entire industry.
End the practice of unsigned editorials, and I will end my boycott. But until then I simply refuse to spend my hard earned money helping to propagate an anti-labor/anti-worker agenda counter to the interests of my city, my state, and my nation.