Notes

Hi, everyone 👋🏻

Most of you know a “something” happened with me and The Sentinel. This is me confirming that Gannett made the unfortunate decision to fire me April 29.

I was accused of “sharing proprietary information with an outside competing media company.” In actuality, I complained to a colleague at Poynter (a nonprofit media institute and newsroom that provides fact-checking, media literacy and journalism ethics training to citizens and journalists) that we were, in many ways and at many times, given assurances from my former company that resources were coming, that we would prioritize local journalism, and if I just held on … it would be okay.

But it's not okay, guys. It hasn't been okay for a while. The brutal fact is that there is a crisis in local journalism (specifically community papers the size of Holland) — one that corporate media companies don't have a clear answer on how to address.

I'm not bitter toward my former employer. It's not Gannett’s fault. In many ways, it's just the natural byproduct of media conglomerates owning publications in major metropolitan areas with hundreds of thousands of people … and papers in much smaller towns who need local journalism just as much.

It's a mixed business model that can't work under a single strategy. Investing in small community papers doesn't yield revenue and growth like a large metro newsroom. That’s because community papers aren’t intended for maximum profit and growth: They’re meant to serve their communities with reliable information so residents can make informed choices.

I love The Holland Sentinel and the community it serves. I gave 14 years of my life to it, and am proud of each and every staff member present and past. It was a great honor to hold such an important role and I want to make it clear that I whole-heartedly support the reporters and editors who remain there — they are my friends and are incredibly skilled journalists who put their hearts and souls into bringing readers important information about the world around them. 

I will continue to subscribe and read, because I value their work. 

To the community members and fellow journalists who have reached out in recent days: Thank you. Your kindness and messages of support mean more to me than I could ever say. I’ll be okay. I’m smart and strong and I have a lot of gas left in the tank. To that end, I am shoring up several freelance agreements with local, state and national media outlets to keep doing what I love. 

I also plan to see through the commitment I made to you in January 2023. I will continue to report on Ottawa County politics through the end of the year, either through different media platforms (more to come when I can say more) and through my own Substack, which you can find at substack.com/@sentinelleach

Back to my earlier point: This isn’t about me. This is about access to information, so you can decide for yourselves who your representative government will be and what laws, policies and decisions you want them to make. 

Let’s use this moment as a catalyst for a critical conversation about local media outlets and the audiences they serve. There has been an unprecedented loss of journalists and community newspapers across the country, and news deserts are growing larger and more numerous. 

Lack of access to quality information can lead to disastrous consequences, including the very real likelihood of government corruption. Journalists aren’t the answer — we’re the bridge. As substack.com/@sentinelleach: “Democracies rest on the ability of the general public to hold their elected officials accountable. But what happens when a large segment of voters knows very little about today’s policy debates or even the basic workings of American government?”

I think we all have a little bit more perspective on this in Ottawa County 2024. 

I will end this on a positive note, because that’s how I feel: hopeful. I’ve had great conversations with community stakeholders on potential solutions to reducing barriers to quality information. I will continue to do all I can to serve up accurate reporting and analysis for all audiences I might be working for in the future. This isn’t -30- (a code used by print journalists back in the day to indicate the end of a story); this is “see you online and on the airwaves.”

With gratitude,

Sarah

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