Readers have the last word
We have a very special advertisement in this edition: a full-page announcement by readers who bought the space to ask neighbors and friends to join them in supporting the NW Examiner financially. I am deeply honored to have such devoted and community-minded readers. (See the full ad at the end of this post, or click above on the cover image, to view the newspaper PDF.)
Upon their recommendation, we will be instituting a $50 annual subscription fee. The Examiner has been mailed free of charge to 23,000 or more addresses since the 1990s, constituting our largest expense item. Free mailings will continue for the foreseeable future, but those who want to support the paper as a commitment to our kind of independent local journalism now have an avenue.
The long American tradition of advertising providing the bulk of newspaper revenues has obscured the fact that the interests of marketers are not identical to those of readers. A thin wall separates editorial content from advertising, a wall enforced primarily by professional ethics. That wall hardly exists on the internet, which is taking away increasing share of promotional dollars from print media. Unlike publications, in which advertisers can be easily identified, websites often have hidden sponsors, and they may be peddling more than products.
Newspapers large and small are losing out to free social media as an advertising medium. And now the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizes the future of the retailers and restaurants who have underwritten local papers since the 19th century. Businesses alone will no longer sustain professional journalism and the newspapers that publish it.
The NW Examiner has seen ad revenues plummet since March as stores closed. Our page count fell from the usual 24 to 16. There were no layoffs because Joleen and I decided to keep working (our other staff members are part-time freelancers), but revenues have covered little more than the cost of postage and printing.
We need our readers to fill the gap. That is not a bad thing. Putting readers first has been my motto, and the transition will move the economic incentives in that direction.
We may also develop events and forums. We expect to use reader connections to reach major institutions and businesses, such as hospitals, supermarkets and banks, that have chosen our community as their home but have perhaps overlooked the benefits of associating with a newspaper trusted by their customers.
While charging subscriptions for something people could get for free may not make sense for most businesses, it has long worked for public broadcasting, and most newspapers are now pursuing a similar course.
I take pride in the fact that this initiative came from the readers, the people I have always considered our reason for being. Not all readers will subscribe, even if they would like to. Many have greater immediate necessities, especially now. But for those who have both the means and share this purpose, we would be most grateful for your support.
Self-government requires an informed citizenry to hold its representatives accountable. Information alone is not hard to come by. We are deluged with it. Often manipulated by it. Increasingly divided by it. Raw information can drive our delusions, apathy, paranoia and tribal instincts. Information must flow through that filter we call news to become worthy of reliance.
More than ever, journalists must work daily to overcome the blinders—within and without—that limit our vision and our ability to function as a society.
That has been my mission for 34 years, and with your support, I am ready for more.