Why I quit my job to devote myself to The Palm Springs Post

You, readers, have inspired a vision for a different kind of local news built on love for our community. I’m taking a leap of faith to make The Palm Springs Post permanent. But I can’t do it without you.

Mark Talkington | September 16, 2021

Become a Founding Member to help build a new kind of independent local news for our community.

Anyone who knew me when I first landed in the desert in the 1990s knew a morbidly obese narcissist who drank too much and cared too little about other people’s opinions. To put it bluntly, I was a mess.

Fortunately I was able to climb out of the tailspin I found myself in. It wasn’t easy. It took nearly two decades of difficult internal work before I became the person I am proud to be today. I lost a lot of weight and emotional baggage. I also lost a lot of friends and damn near lost the people who mean the most to me.

What helped me along the way is what helps me today: I learned to practice forgiveness, compassion, and appreciative joy with myself and others. Thousands of hours of meditation will do that for a person.

What could this possibly have to do with writing news for The Palm Springs Post? It turns out that how I operate as a reporter has changed as well.

In journalism school you’re taught to stay an arm’s length away from the subjects you report on. It’s drilled into you to “objectively” capture quotes from both sides, write tight, file your story, and go home. But that isn’t happening now as I write for The Post. Instead, I feel compassion for the people I listen to and talk with, appreciative joy for what some bring to the community, and forgiveness for those who do the city or themselves harm. My journalism professors may not like this approach, but I’m not interested in changing.

Help build a different kind of local news based on compassion

Journalists are usually arm’s-length. The Palm Springs Post serves our city from a place of appreciative joy.

Quitting my job to take a leap of faith

One thing I am interested in changing is how much time I devote to the community with The Post. Earlier this year, I told you about working a “real” job in addition to putting out The Post. Between that job and The Post, I was working 100 hours each week. It was not sustainable. Something had to give. 

So, armed with more than 200 emails from people in the community asking how they could support my work, I sided with The Post and quit my “real” job last month. I elected to take a gamble on something I wrote on a sticky note when people asked me how The Post could possibly pay my bills:

“Build something of value and the community will tell you what it’s worth.”

Your encouragement tells me I’ve built something of value. The responses I receive to the daily newsletters I’ve been sending out for the past seven months keep me going. “You are providing a marvelous source of news to our community,” one of you wrote. “First thing I do in the morning before I get out of bed is read your newsletters. I feel well informed. Thank you so much,” another shared. “The Palm Springs Post = required reading if you want to be ‘in the know’ about all things local!” I can’t tell you what these messages mean to me.

Now it’s time for the second part of my sticky note business plan: ask the community to tell me what it’s worth. (Gulp.) Today, I’m kicking off a campaign to invite you to become Founding Members. By contributing whatever you can financially, you’ll be joining me in taking a leap of faith to make The Palm Springs Post a going concern. 

Why Founding Membership? It’s important to me that everyone can access the work that I do. That no one is ever prevented from reading local news because they can’t pay. Ever. The hope is that those who can afford to support The Post will help make the community journalism I practice available for those who cannot afford that support.

My original business plan for The Palm Springs Post, written on a sticky note, is still on my nightstand next to a few other things I treasure — Larry Bohannan’s fantastic book about golf in Palm Springs and a picture of my wife riding through The Movie Colony neighborhood on a summer evening.

Why Palm Springs needs The Post

To explain why I’m doing this, I want to take you back to The Post’s very first story.

Earlier this year there was a house fire in my neighborhood. People who saw the flames were quick to take to Nextdoor to assign blame for the incident — a meth lab blew up, there was a gas leak on the street, and all homes were at risk of exploding; it was “the homeless” — but nobody actually had the facts. These were sizable flames, visible from the top of the Tram, so I turned to the local news media’s Twitter feeds, confident I would see a full report. And yet … nothing. First for hours, then for days.

By the time I put my news reporter hat on and emailed the Palm Springs Fire Department’s public information officer about the incident, the conversation on Nextdoor had devolved as most do — mudslinging and blame, innuendo and snark, but still no facts. As it turned out, the fire was an apparent accident caused by somebody who may have been cooking in the home. I provided the facts and the source of those facts on the original social media post, and left it at that.

What happened next birthed The Post. People were actually grateful for the facts, and a conversation ensued that basically went like this: We used to know what all the sirens were about. We used to know the good things our neighbors were doing. We used to know everything happening at City Hall and how officials were addressing critical issues. Now all we ever hear about is anytime somebody gets shot, and the only news we get about the city is the performative politics around installing a statue or taking one down. Even if we are offered some basic neighborhood news, we’re forced to pay for it.

I vowed to try my best to fix that. I wanted to make The Post a trusted news source for Palm Springs, to tell important stories, to hold the powerful accountable, and to celebrate those who make this such a great place to live, work, and play. I promised to do it for free as a public service. And I’ve done that every week since February.

Help keep The Post’s daily news a free public service

Six days a week, The Post brings readers important stories, holds the powerful accountable and celebrates those who make Palm Springs a great place to live.

Community journalism is too important not to be in local hands

It’s no secret local news coverage like what I offer in The Post has been in sharp decline for many years. 

That’s due in large part to the massive changes that developed in consumer habits and the burgeoning power of social media conglomerates. Corporations like Facebook and Google have fundamentally changed how we find, read, share, and make money from information. 

Meantime, six corporations now control 90 percent of all media outlets in America. Corporations control the local TV stations and the newspaper serving the Coachella Valley. The newspaper is produced and printed out of state and trucked into town overnight. Its building is for sale, and its local editorial staff has been decimated. All those moves helped its parent company become the largest owner of newspapers in America. It recently announced quarterly revenue of $804 million.

Community journalism is a vital part of our democratic infrastructure, and it’s too important to be left in the hands of out-of-state owners more interested in profits than in civic good. Our city, our very society, has been left poorer for the stories that were not told as the newspaper laid off staff and scaled-back news coverage.

Just like independent coffee shops offer better coffee and a cozier feel, local news benefits when it’s not homogenized. Independent news operations not only produce higher-quality journalism, but they are more in touch with the communities they serve. In the case of The Post, thousands of subscribers have put their trust in me, and hundreds have emailed me or met me in person. Each one gets a personal response, not a form letter.

With your support, I want to do even better

I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I also know that I can do better. My reporting is often too shallow, my writing and grammar are sometimes atrocious, and my photos are awful — although I dare you to find anyone who takes a better picture of a vacant lot.

With your support, I can build a mission-driven community news organization that is much better and more in touch than anything The Post has produced so far. That’s why, behind the scenes of the newsletter, I’ve been collaborating with a network of other local news entrepreneurs to build The Palm Springs Post into the Coachella Valley’s first 24/7, 100% digital news site.

When launched in October, aside from remaining free, The Post’s new website will be mobile-friendly with a clean design and without the clickbait and clutter found in all the corporate news products you currently read. Don’t worry, the Daily Briefing email will continue to go out each and every morning after I feed the cats. Our new Sunday series, Palm Springs Profiles, will continue to introduce you to impactful neighbors you should know.

It makes me extremely uncomfortable to ask for your support. I’ve been near tears at the thought of appearing greedy and using The Post as a marketing vehicle. But I am sincere when I tell you that I truly can’t realize the vision you inspired for The Post without your support.

Here are my other promises:

  • The journalism in The Post is free and always will be. But it turns out it’s not free to produce and deliver. If The Post is successful in its Founding Member campaign, it will help ensure I’m able to pay for site hosting, email services, photography, libel insurance, taxes, and other more routine business expenses for many months.
  • If enough monthly contributors support The Post, I can draw a salary and bring in other experienced reporters to help. I want to use my privilege to build a diverse team that’s paid above-average wages. I’ve already started to scout for help, reaching out to friends and former colleagues at major news outlets throughout America. I’m specifically searching for journalists from the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. There are enough people like me who run media companies. That needs to change.
  • If I can afford some help, I will have time to start news products similar to The Post in other communities in the Coachella Valley. To that end, my wife and I have formed a parent company called Valley Voice Media.
  • Eventually I will step aside. I’m hoping that happens after everyone in every city in the Coachella Valley has access to free community news. But whenever that happens I plan to convert Valley Voice Media to a nonprofit and gift it to the community.

All of this is a lofty dream. None of it may come to fruition. And there are many executives in corner offices plotting ways to ensure independent publishers like me fail. But after a lifetime in the news business, seven months putting out The Post, and weeks of conversations with people in the community who are cheering me on, I am taking a leap of faith.

I would be honored if you joined me in this mission.

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