Community Newspapers Demand Communities Buy | Opinion Matters
“YWhat have you bought ? asks a friend. “A small-town weekly newspaper,” I reply to myself, followed by “it’s obviously not about making money.” “Why then?” comes next. “Because democracy is important, and community is important, and a local newspaper is an important part of it all.” ” So how is it going ? is the last question.
Since we came together to ‘save’ the local paper a few years ago, every member of Coastside News Group has experienced this same back and forth. The eyes of most people asking questions are fixed on the answer to the final question, something like, “It’s going in the right direction, but it’s a difficult project.”
The good news is that we continue to win statewide awards, including first place for “General Excellence” and a host of awards for News, Editorials, Cartoons and Humor. . We’ve ended the trend of cuts followed by downsizing followed by more cuts, a trend that’s all too familiar across the country as other local newspapers close left and right. We have developed an independent local organization that does all the work necessary to thrive, including reporting, editorial, advertising and accounting.
Our Coastside neighbors were so impressed by it all that they joined us in taking over the Pacifica Tribune, which we’ve restored to a respected publication focused exclusively on local news. Each month we also produce a wonderful magazine that highlights people and places all along the coast, from Pacifica to Pescadero and beyond. We make it available both in print and online. We survived a pandemic that wiped out similar organizations across the country.
The bad news is that we have not yet achieved our main goal: to create a profitable and sustainable business that can continue for another 125 years. This will require more creativity and elbow grease from us, and greater engagement from our community. Only if people buy more newspapers and support our advertisers will this all work. Meanwhile, CNGI continues to do what it takes to keep making newspapers better, and we’re optimistic about local journalism on the coast.
My friend’s next question is usually something like, “Why not do everything online?” Only old people read the news from dead trees.
Most of us at CNGI have an entrepreneurial background, and that kind of thinking is very appealing, so we focused much of our efforts in the first two years on strengthening our online sites. In doing so, we also learned the business of local media. What we have found is that there is no revenue in small town online sites. Without income, there is no salary for journalists and there is no professional journalism. There are many volunteer online “local news” sites that are mostly editorial free. Unfortunately, only the biggest media companies can generate significant revenue online. With a total population of around 65,000, the Coastside simply doesn’t have enough “eyeballs” to make money online, certainly not enough money to pay for professional copywriting. Social media like Nextdoor performs a vital function but does not replace journalism.
“Why not just increase your subscription prices and eliminate free online access?” comes the next question. It turns out that subscription revenue is a very small part of what’s needed, and every time you raise rates, you lose subscribers. Advertisers like lots of subscribers.
Old-fashioned print advertising, which allows local businesses to showcase their products and services, continues to be the mainstay of local media revenue. This is complemented by those weird disclaimers that are required by law, and are all that remains of the once lucrative classifieds business that was wiped out by Craigslist.
So please, readers, support our efforts. If you read the newspaper for free, consider subscribing. It’s a good thing ! If you’re a subscriber, ask a friend or two to subscribe too, online or in print. And by all means, support our local advertisers.
Also keep sending us your feedback. Every good thing you share makes us all very proud and every review is taken to heart. We generally try to avoid talking too much about ourselves, but I know a lot of people are interested in a bit of the background on the how, what, why and who of local papers. In the future, if there’s interest, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about the day-to-day reality of professional journalism, both editorially and business-wise.
Rich Klein lives in El Granada and is CEO of Coastside News Group Inc., a California benefit company.