NORWALK, Conn. – We never really thought we would have so much in common with The Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
I guess you could add The New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press, the Cleveland Plain Dealer – you get the picture.
The Post was sold to Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos for $250 million this week. The Boston Globe was sold to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry for $70 million. Both were cash deals, although I suspect electronic transfers rather than, say, a satchel full of 20’s or a postal money order. And the sales were, in fact, not to Amazon or the Sox. They were to the individuals, who may have brought in other individuals to participate.
The point is that both papers – both icons – were draining the resources of their owners, who had to cut them loose. The Graham family got $250M for the Post, which might have brought more than $5 billion a decade ago. The New York Times purchased the Globe from the Taylor family for $1.1 billion in 1993 and dumped it for $70M in a fire sale this week.
Notice I did not say “news.” The shift to the Internet for information – much of it free from non-traditional sites masquerading as news outlets – has been accompanied by a dumbing down of the population. Instead of getting their news from trained journalists, too many people turn to infotainers with agendas to hear reports that support their beliefs that are often borne of misinformation or personal prejudices.
As for advertising, the newspaper business long ago lost the majority of its classified advertising – once a huge revenue source – to sites like Craigslist and various real estate and auto sites. Many businesses pulled back their ad dollars, opting for a combination of their own websites and social media pages along with hyperlocal ad services that target individuals based on online profiles.
And this is where we come in. NancyOnNorwalk exists, in part, because the Internet drove print to the breaking point, costing thousands of journalists their livelihoods. Some, like us, chose the “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them” route. We started this site because we saw a need, and the response has been terrific, given a total lack of promotional budget, or any budget at all.
We also started it for self-preservation. It’s hard enough to live on two journalists’ salaries in Fairfield County, let alone one. Then the hammer fell at that other site, and we lost that salary, too.
So now we find ourselves in the same position as the Post and the Globe. Newspapers have never supported themselves through subscriptions or newsstand sales. In fact, free weeklies and shoppers abound. Why? Advertising. It has always been about the ad dollars.
It has also been about rich people, or people who believe in a free press that holds the feet of the powerful to the fire, and who have enough money to donate to the cost.
Advertising dollars are always slow to materialize for a start-up. They are even slower when businesses feel pressure from those who don’t like the glare of the spotlight to not support the effort.
That means we must depend, for the coming months, at least, on a rich benefactor or two, or a substantial number of people who believe in what we do, no matter where it leads.
Some people have suggested asking readers to pay, be it by subscription or by the day. We tried that with our Florida site, and lost most of our readers. The monthly charge was $7. Ezra Klein of the Post reports that, when people were asked to pay $10 a month to read the Post online – a major discount from the print price – readers balked. Many said they could not afford $10 a month. For the Washington Post.
Journalism is at a crossroads. More local sites will appear as print continues to cut back until it dies of a thousand cuts. Many of those companies, and many of the start-ups, will continue online but will shun the watchdog role for fear of antagonizing what few advertisers they have.
And so the paradigm is changing. No, we are not a non-profit, although we might try to go that way in the future. That takes time, and we do not have that time right now. Still, we must go the route of public broadcasting and reach out to our audience, hat in hand, and ask for continued support in the form of donations to keep NancyOnNorwalk alive and shining the light on Norwalk’s government and other public institutions.
To donate, see the box near the top of the right side of the page. We will soon add a recurring donations option to make it easier for monthly amounts to be given. And we do thank those who responded to our call in mid-July. In two weeks, we received about half of what we need monthly to survive. Carried out over four weeks and we would be solid for another month.
That’s the key – to keep the ball rolling. We don’t have an Oldies concert to offer donors, backed up by CD’s, DVD’s and coffee mugs. We can’t even offer a tax deduction. We can only offer to continue to do real journalism to keep you, the readers, informed.