Meet the Kentucky Lantern, independent journalism that’s free for all to read

Newspapers have lost 60% of their journalists; our nonprofit model aims to fill gaps in state capital reporting and commentary

November 30, 2022 5:00 am

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FRANKFORT — Welcome to the Kentucky Lantern.

I’m thrilled you’re reading us. Please, come back and invite your friends.

As a nonprofit we can make our news and commentary free to read without paywalls and also free to republish. 

While this economic model is relatively new, our mission is so deeply rooted in American democracy that it’s enshrined in the Constitution’s First Amendment: We’re here to report why and how those in power make decisions, and to explore how those decisions play out in the lives of Kentuckians. 

We’re calling ourselves Kentucky Lantern because paths to a better future become clear when journalists shine the light of accountability.

Unfortunately, many fewer journalists are keeping an eye on county seats and state capitals. Since 2005, the number of journalists employed by U.S. newspapers has declined by 60%, in tandem with a 60% drop in newspaper revenue. 

The losses — from 75,000 newsroom employees in 2005 to only 31,400 in 2021 — have come overwhelmingly from journalists covering local and state news.

Partially offsetting that decline are 10,000 journalists employed since 2008 by digital-only news operations. 

I’m still stunned by how fast advertising — the financial lifeblood of newspapers — migrated from print to digital. Newspapers have adapted, but it takes thousands of digital views to equal the income that once was generated by a single full-page ad.

I got to know — and love — the news business and Kentucky by working at newspapers across the state. As a new University of Kentucky grad, I started at the Flemingsburg Times Democrat, followed by the Lebanon Enterprise, Elizabethtown News-Enterprise, Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer and for a long stint at the Lexington Herald-Leader. I also worked as a reporter in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. 

Three of my eight newspapers no longer exist. Nationally, the death rate since 2005 stands at about 1 in 4. Researchers predict that within three years a third of U.S. newspapers will have bitten the dust.

In Kentucky, we’ve lost The Kentucky Post and the Glasgow Daily Times while many smaller newspapers, including my hometown Morehead News, have been consolidated into digital sites that post news from around a region.

Writing this, I can’t help but think back to the newspaper buildings where I have spent most of my waking hours, in particular, the backshops. In those coffee-fueled bee hives of activity, compositors built display advertisements for local businesses, organized the “want ads” into neat columns, and laid out type and photographs, usually finishing the front page last in case news broke late. 

Just as newspapers united communities around causes and events, the advertisements were the oil in local economies, whether you were shopping for a job, a winter coat or a bird dog pup. 

Many of those backshops are empty now, gone the way of so many local banks, grocers and merchants. The economic pressures on newspapers and local businesses are not all that different. 

People still need groceries, winter coats and hunting dogs, though, and they still need the information that the Kentucky Lantern is committed to providing. 

Research has found that people who have strong ties to local news also engage in their communities, as volunteers and voters in local elections. 

Kentucky Lantern is supported not by advertisers but donors, both individuals and foundations, who value local and state journalism as a public good. 

We disclose all donors of more than $500.

Our parent, States Newsroom, a 501(c)(3) organization in Chapel Hill, N.C., has a nationwide reach though each of the newsrooms is shaped by journalists, like the Lantern’s staff, who have deep ties to the places they’re covering.

I’m confident in the firewall between our donors and our journalism, just as I’m confident in the firewall between our news and opinion. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. 

And I am super excited to be here, leading a team of inquisitive, idealistic journalists working in an office a quick walk from the Capitol.

We are committed to doing our part to make Kentucky fairer for all. Our commentary will come from a progressive viewpoint.

We’re also committed to the discipline of journalism. That means our news reporting will be independent, impartial, fair. When we make mistakes, we will correct them.

Our content is licensed by Creative Commons, available to be republished by others. We ask only that you attribute the work and include a link to this site.

Our goal is to earn your trust with timely, incisive, factual reporting and opinion. 

Give us a long look. Send us your tips and help us tell your stories. I look forward to hearing what you think

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jamie Lucke
Jamie Lucke

Jamie Lucke has more than 40 years of experience as a journalist. Her editorials for the Lexington Herald-Leader won Walker Stone, Sigma Delta Chi and Green Eyeshade awards. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.