News media has gone through some major changes over the past decade with legacy publications closing down and staff reductions the norm. To fill that information void, small websites and local newspapers have popped up, trying to make a go of it. They are aiming to find a new way financially, knowing that old models aren’t working as they once did. Many are non-traditional and some editors may not even have a journalism background.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, one of BenitoLink's original sponsors, helped fund some of these projects to fill the growing void where news providers once were. What the Knight Foundation has found, is that new financial structures require a reassessment of ethical standards when it comes to funding. The subject of ethics in journalism is important to our readers and this is an effort to answer some of your questions.
With BenitoLink's readership growing to 15,000 to 25,000 unique visitors a month, our pool of sponsors grows as well. And with that comes the responsibility to manage our sponsors and keep a separation between their interests and our editorial coverage. In small communities like San Juan Bautista, Tres Pinos, Paicines and even Hollister, that can be a challenge.
Some news providers are now taking “sponsored content," in which sponsors are willing to pay for a particular article or story because they have an interest in it. BenitoLink does not and will not be doing sponsored content. We feel it would erode readers' trust in us and makes it unclear where the writer’s allegiance lies, where the funding came from and even what's the truth.
Sponsors are typically businesses or nonprofits that place a graphic representing their business on BenitoLink. They are sponsorships and indirectly support local and regional news. By accepting a sponsorship we are not endorsing the business or entity that paid to be on BenitoLink.
Donors are individuals. We began to list our campaign donors and how much they gave after our first fundraising drive. However, we do come across individuals who want privacy when it comes to their donations. We respect that and in those cases, it is our job to be certain that our funding sources do not influence us in choosing what stories we cover and how we cover them.
We assign our "Reporting for BenitoLink" stories using a traditional editorial process, weighing their value to our readers. Our mission as a nonprofit is to be inclusive. Involving different economic and cultural segments of our community result in more variety in our stories and provides a fresh look at the county, as not all stories are written by trained journalists.
We will run your stories and commentaries, too, creating a healthy mix of content. We hope that in the years to come, we will earn our readers' trust by not taking editorial positions, determined fact checking and staying curious enough to hear and present all sides of an issue.
Think BenitoLink and support your news and information source for San Benito County on this year's Silicon Valley Gives regional fundraiser on May 3.