As quality control continued to be a problem, we hired one of our interns to manage the CCs—at least to the degree that they would allow themselves to be managed. It was ultimately their choice. But under her watch, we offered copy-editing (to take it easy on readers) and insisted that CCs who wanted to review a play or a concert go through us, after promoters started getting two or more requests for free tickets from people claiming to be reporters from The Sacramento Press.

And we dealt with divas wanting to cover all of the plays or comedy shows or baseball games in town. It’s a wonder the CC coordinator didn’t go completely mad. I would have.

And then there was the whole issue of deadlines. When someone is writing for free, enforcing a deadline is nearly impossible. So we had stories showing up eight hours late. Or two days late. Or four. Or never.

Nevertheless, our professional staff got kudos for their work from the people who mattered: our subjects and others who were watching closely. Members of the city council, the mayor’s office, homeless advocates, and the artists and business people about whom we wrote were pleased with the quality and attention to detail of my staff, and with our responsiveness to their concerns.

It is this of which I am most proud: we brought local coverage back. “No story too small” turned out to be a pretty good credo, and despite the faddishness of the term “hyperlocal,” the return to community journalism that websites allow worked, journalistically. The readers of The Sacramento Press feel an ownership of the site, and protect the civility of “The Conversation” zealously. And they are not pushovers when it comes to journalism. They appreciate what The Sacramento Press brings to our town, and they are engaged. And this is every bit as important as making sure every quote is accurate and word is spelled correctly.

It may also make this form of journalism profitable yet, for advertisers want, above all, an engaged audience. So while it is still losing its founders money every month—and making it hard or even impossible to pay people like me—The Press may still turn a profit and become sustainable.

But this much is still clear, whether for new media or old: Editing costs money. Citizen journalists are cheap and they can even be good. But even great journalists need some editing; citizen journalists need a lot of it.

Much of this piece, which was intended to be about journalism, is instead about money. Perhaps that’s the ultimate message, as journalists everywhere are discovering. As journalists, we’re nothing if we don’t tell the truth, backed up by solid reporting. But unless someone, somewhere, is bringing money to the table, our political insights or critical acumen or familiarity with the machinations of city hall are mere dinner party—or Facebook—fodder.

Without the money, we don’t have jobs. And “citizen journalism” notwithstanding, without journalism jobs, we don’t have journalism.

Journalists like to say, “Follow the money.” Where that leads us might not be pretty or encouraging. But that, ultimately, is the promise of good journalism. Only by facing reality do we have a chance of changing it.

 

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David Watts Barton is a multimedia journalist who divides his time between northern California and New York City.