A different prescription for supporting a ‘principled press’

Forrest Berkshire

It was heartening to see such a high-profile celebrity as Meryl Streep advocate for supporting fact-based journalism. But her specific recommendation missed the mark.

Streep delivered a six-minute speech criticizing President-elect Donald Trump while she was accepting a lifetime achievement award at last Sunday’s Golden Globes. As part of that criticism, she called on her audience to support a “principled press to hold power to account” and to support the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

CPJ is an important organization doing good work. Based in New York, it monitors violations of press freedom around the globe, reporting on such instances and taking action to document and mobilize against repressive regimes. In 2016, it documented 48 journalists who were killed in situations where their work could be confirmed as the motive for their deaths. I would urge readers to visit the committee’s website at cpj.org and learn more about the state of press freedom around the world.

But if the American public wants to safeguard a free and independent press in our country, there is a better option: Subscribe to a newspaper. Online works if that is your only option, but the dead-tree, recycled rag that leaves your fingers stained black is the best option.


Several reasons. For one, because you’ll be better informed. Most Americans report getting their news through social media. But social media has become an echo chamber fueled by links shared by like-minded friends and computer algorithms that show users what they predict will generate clicks.

Studies have also shown that readers are more likely to read news they might not have clicked on when they happen across a headline while browsing a print publication.

But there is also a broader, economic reason to subscribe to a newspaper if you value independent, fact-based journalism. They are the foundation of our news ecosystem.

Every publication that exists both online and in print derives the vast majority of its revenue from the physical product, often 90 to 95 percent. And that money comes primarily from two sources, advertising and sales through subscriptions or single copies. There was a time not long ago when advertising alone accounted for up to three-quarters, but with the proliferation of cheap digital advertising diverting much of that life’s blood away from print, many publications are trying to move close to a 50-50 split. That’s why subscription and single copy prices keep rising.

Reporting done right is time-intensive work, which means it is expensive. We call it newsgathering because that’s what a journalist does — he or she goes out and gathers facts from a multitude of sources and then distills what can be verified into a report for the general public.

In most areas, newspapers have the largest newsrooms. That’s why most news reports originate with them. In 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, only two-in-ten U.S. adults got their news from print newspapers. That was half the number who got theirs online, and 57 percent of U.S. adults often got their news from TV. But those numbers only show how citizens consumed the news, not where it originated.

A 2010 Pew study that looked at the “news ecosystem” and traced the origination of six key storylines found that more than half originated from newspaper reporting. Much of the other media outlets such as local TV, niche media, radio and online outlets simply repackaged already published facts that originated at those newspapers.

Which brings me full-circle to Streep’s recommendation for strengthening journalism.

Newspapers derive much of their independence from their financial stability, which entails consumers paying for a product based on fact-based reporting on issues that affect the public. It is about more than chasing clicks online and churning out content aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Many newspapers in this country are in serious jeopardy, largely because of the broken economic model upon which the industry was built for more than a century. But those threats have been compounded by a dwindling subscriber base because too many people have disengaged or lost interest in news that affects public policy. Or, they just don’t want to have to pay for it.

An informed public through responsible journalism is vital to our form of government. Newspapers are the foundation of that model. If they go away, most journalism will, as well.

So if you agree with Streep — not with her politics, but with her sentiment that journalism is important to an informed electorate — then subscribe to a newspaper. Because without them, the sources for the news you are getting elsewhere will go dry.

This column was originally published in the Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, print edition of The Kentucky Standard.

Going back doesn’t mean reversing course

Note: This column was originally published April 3 in The Kentucky Standard here.

It’s good to be back.

Forrest BerkshireMonday was my first day as editor at The Kentucky Standard since early November. I left for the right reasons, and I came back for the right reasons. Life is complicated like that, and it is rare that you get a second chance at an opportunity, so I count myself lucky.

I am lucky for several reasons, too numerous to list in this space. But my time away gave me a chance to reflect on a few aspects related to work and life that I wanted to share.

Work-life balance

Some of us are fortunate enough to have a career we are passionate about. For me, it’s journalism.

Continue reading Going back doesn’t mean reversing course

My farewell column in The Kentucky Standard

This is the column running in Wednesday’s Kentucky Standard, announcing that I am leaving the news business (again). You can read the original here 

I have a few other thoughts about my time heading a newsroom, and I plan to expound on those in a bit. But first, here is my official goodbye column:

Nelson County: It has been a privilege

It’s not you, it’s me.

When I was younger, I ended a few relationships with that explanation and was the recipient more than once.

I didn’t always mean it when I said it, and I didn’t always believe the person who said it to me.

But I mean it from the bottom of my heart as I write this column informing our readership and the community that I am stepping down as editor of The Kentucky Standard, effective Nov. 6. I have accepted another job offer that will be better for my family.

Continue reading My farewell column in The Kentucky Standard

Reflections on a friend and mentor lost

I have found that the people you perceive as hard on you early in life were, upon retrospect, teaching you the most important lessons.

For me, one of those people was a journalism professor at Northern Kentucky University, Mary Cupito. She died this week after a three-year battle with cancer.

Notice I wrote “died,” not passed away. That colloquialism would have earned a mark from her red pen. People don’t pass away, she once told me. They die.

She was teaching me how to write simply. But I have thought long and hard about that lesson the past few days. Mary died, but she did not pass away. Her legacy lives on through the many young lives that she touched and their futures she helped form.

I count myself lucky to be one of them.

Continue reading Reflections on a friend and mentor lost

Don’t miss an opportunity waiting for the perfect moment

As a longtime photographer I am well aware of missed opportunities.

Silas and his dad before the Kindergarten Derby.
Silas and his dad before the Kindergarten Derby.

I have missed many good photos because I decided I would get to it later. In springtime it might be a dogwood blooming along a rustic fence line that I drive by and think, “I’ll stop tomorrow, the light will be better.” In the winter, it could be an old tobacco barn covered in newly fallen snow, serene and isolated in the cold beauty of its surroundings.

There are many elements that separate a snapshot from a photo, chiefly composition and lighting. While a photographer can easily control composition, oftentimes the proper lighting, especially outdoors, is a matter of timing. Early mornings and an hour or so before sunset, when the light is golden and directional, are my favorite times to shoot. Problem is, I am usually either busy at those times, or when I am not, I fall into the trap of “I’ll get to that tomorrow.”

But photography, at its essence, is capturing a moment in time. And time waits for no man.

It’s not long before the blooms fall from the dogwood or the snow melts and the moment for the perfect photo passes.

Continue reading Don’t miss an opportunity waiting for the perfect moment

Rule for Daddy’s stories – trust but verify

I was in the bathroom the other night when I realized I have a credibility problem.

I was giving my boys a bath. Silas is 5 and Quinn turns 4 today, and already they are catching on to me.

Now, I’m not the normal bath-giver. My wife usually has that job, mostly because the boys insist that she do it, along with just about everything else they need. Around our house, it seems Daddy is for fun and for discipline. Mommy is for nurturing and, apparently, trust.

The boys were sitting in the water, surrounded by a flotilla of assorted bath toys ranging from great white sharks to plastic garden pails, when Silas started playing with one of their favorites — an old shampoo bottle. They like to suck the bath water up into it and then blast each other in the face. It’s a game that never seems to get old to them. For the innocent bystander just trying to get the little heathens clean, though, it gets pretty annoying pretty quickly. Continue reading Rule for Daddy’s stories – trust but verify

Dems should choose substance over starpower

Originally published in The Kentucky Standard on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.

I have to admit, I’m not sold on this whole Ashley Judd vs. Mitch McConnell scenario.

It seems to me that many commentators in the media and in Democratic circles are a little star struck.

And they seem to think voters will be just as enamored at the ballot box.

There have been celebrities that were successful as candidates, and even a few who were successful at serving in office.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Jesse Ventura in Minnesota both won governorships. The liberal firebrand and comedian Al Franken won a U.S. Senate seat in 2008 representing Minnesota. Continue reading Dems should choose substance over starpower

Recent photos – Feb 17, 2013

photocrati gallery

So every once in a while, I actually get out of the office and get to break out the camera. It doesn’t happen as often as I would like. But over the past several months I’ve gotten out a few times, and I even took a few that I like. Here’s a few shots I like that I’ve taken since starting at The Standard in July.

I’ll try to be better about updating more often in the future.

Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz

Ashley Cambron of Louisville lights a cigar Friday night at the Bourbon Cigars and Jazz event of The Kentucky Bourbon Festival

I shot this photo at My Old Kentucky Home during the 2012 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. It was during the Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz event, a Mardis Gras themed event.

I have to say, of all the events I saw during my first Bourbon Festival, this was the one I thought looked like the most fun.

Careful what you wish for

This is a column I wrote for The Kentucky Standard, published on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. 

It was shortly after the 2010 primaries when I found myself on the phone with a good friend from Ohio talking about Kentucky politics.

Rand Paul had recently upset the political order of the Kentucky Republican establishment, beating U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s protégé, Trey Grayson. In an interview with National Public Radio, Paul had taken issue with the portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits private businesses from discriminating against people based on race, religion or national origin.

That was it, my friend was convinced. Chalk up a win for the Democrats in November. How, after all, could someone so far on the fringe ever carry a statewide election? Continue reading Careful what you wish for