Editor’s note: Marcy Hennecke is a Tampa-based philanthropist who supports local media, environmental conservation and women’s empowerment. She is a former journalist, speechwriter and PR consultant, and lived and worked in Holland, Mexico, Egypt and Canada before settling in Tampa. This is the text of a speech she delivered at Cocktails & News, an annual event for major donors to the Tampa Bay Times journalism funds.
May you live in interesting times. This infamous Chinese curse plagues us mercilessly right now. We have an abundance of interesting. A plentitude. Our cup of “interesting” runneth over. Please God, make it stop.
All of us here today, young and old, have just sailed through what we might now view as a span of remarkably peaceful decades. We did not have to live through the atrocities of either of the world wars. We were not forced to weather the Great Depression of the 1930s. We lived, until recently, in a stable, reliable democracy, where everyone agreed on the basic rules. Our relatively cushy upbringing in history, has, perhaps, left us entirely unprepared for interesting times.
Well, we most certainly live in interesting times now. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Mass species extinctions. Rising waters. Pandemics. Mass shootings. War in Europe. Crime. Political violence in our own Capitol. Disinformation.
So what do we — the children of peaceful, boring upbringings — what do we do in interesting times?
If you’re like me, what you want to do is hide. I want to bury myself in the couch pillows and watch Netflix. I want to indulge my Call of Duty habit.
Sadly, that is not what we are called to do right now.
This is our time, and we are called to fight to save everything we hold dear. Whether you believe that means climate change, or democracy, or freedom, or world peace or all those things — the most important weapon we can have in any of those battles is a strong and free local press.
Our democracy needs a free press like you and I need breath. It is the Fourth Estate; the watchdog of the Constitution. And it is under attack. It is being attacked by people who live in social media bubbles where their algorithms feed them only what they want to hear.
Well, friends, let’s pop some bubbles.
Let’s fight disinformation. We will fight it with a common set of facts, which is the most fundamental basis for change. We will fight it with analysis, to understand the right course of action, and with investigation, to hold power to account. Most of all, we will fight it with a strong sense of community, that pulls people together through empathy and caring, to drive change — and to support each other.
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We are so very lucky in Tampa Bay to have a paper that is up for the task. The Tampa Bay Times is finding footing in an industry that is in massive transition. The loss of subscriptions is not a failure of journalism, but it is a challenge. Newspapers are struggling not because what they do is not needed, but because their fundamental business model is metamorphosing. The Tampa Bay Times is leading the way, not just in the craft of journalism where they are unquestionably the pinnacle of local reporting, but also speaking at national conferences, advising other newspapers on a new business model.
We are all part of that change. If you believe in a free press and support in the Tampa Bay Times, and I think you do, then I want to leave you with four things you can do today to stand up for local journalism in our town.
1. Share Tampa Bay Times stories. Sharing quality journalism brings immediate value to stories and gives recognition to those writing them. And the social media traffic you generate brings more readers to the Times.
2. Pay for the news you consume. I don’t have to tell this crowd. Subscribe to the Times. Subscribe also to other media you value, and you want to see continue.
3. Donate to the Tampa Bay Times. Go to the front page of the digital Times and click donate.
· If we raise $50,000 for the Times, they can hire a new reporter focused exclusively on climate and our coastline. Imagine the impact that a reporter with this beat could have on everything from conservation to building codes.
· With $25,000, they can hire a new Report for America reporter to cover underserved issues and areas. The RFA is a national group that will pay half of the reporter’s salary if the Times can cover the rest.
· Donations of $1,000 and less can fund all kinds of technology improvements to make your digital newspaper experience smoother and more intuitive.
4. Become an advocate. Talk up the Times and other quality media to friends and family. Tell them why it matters to you. Write a letter to the editor about something you care deeply about. Give a tip to a journalist when you see something happening that you think others should know about. Speak positively of journalists, and bite back at fake news.
We live in interesting times, but there is much we can do to change that. Let’s do what we are called to do, so our children and grandchildren can live in a much less interesting world.