We are about to start 2018, and for me personally, that means six years of covering Mountlake Terrace through MLTnews.
For local news organizations like ours, the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day is often a slower time. I have had the luxury of reviewing the past year, as well as beginning to gear up for the year ahead.
As such, I feel I owe it to our readers to be very honest about where we stand.
The economy as a whole in the Puget Sound region is strong. Unemployment is very low. The real estate market is crazy, as anyone who has bought or sold a home recently can attest.
The news business continues to tread water, however, and we are no exception.
Part of the problem, in my mind, is the juxtaposition of those two words — news + business. “For profit” journalism — and in our case I use that term very loosely — is in its current state precisely because it is funded mostly by advertising.
I must add, for the record, that I can’t thank our current advertisers enough. They provide the majority of our revenue stream.
However, we don’t have enough advertisers to keep us in business. This is especially true in Mountlake Terrace.
In doing research last year, I came across a couple of telling statistics:
- Only 19 percent of small businesses advertise — anywhere.
- Facebook and Google ALONE bring in more revenue from advertising than all U.S. newspapers combined.
That tells me that expecting journalism to survive on advertising dollars alone is not just unrealistic — it’s a death sentence.
How have journalism organizations responded to this changing market? There has been downsizing — staffs are smaller, layoffs are prevalent, and even the size of the publications themselves have shrunk. For online publications, many have introduced some level of “paywall” — in the case of The Herald in Everett or The Seattle Times, you read 10 articles and don’t get any more unless you subscribe.
We don’t have any type of paywall and I don’t intend to introduce one. You can sign up for our daily email newsletter (sent out at 5 a.m., seven days a week) for free. You can access our website for free. But I have said to others on more than one occasion (not entirely in jest!) that I should charge people to comment — as the vast majority of our most frequent commenters don’t support us financially.
Most of you know that I publish websites in Edmonds (My Edmonds News) and Lynnwood (Lynnwood Today) in addition to MLTnews. I thought it would be helpful to share some history regarding how that happened.
Since the demise of the weekly Enterprise newspapers and the short-lived Weekly Herald publication that followed, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood have had no print publications. Our communities are essentially “news deserts” in a thriving metropolitan area.
After I started My Edmonds News, the publishers of already-existing news websites in Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood came to me separately and asked if I would be interested in taking them over (in 2012, in the case of MLTnews and in 2013 in the case of Lynnwood Today). At first I said no. Then I realized the brutal reality: If I did not, those communities would have no one covering their city government, their public safety their schools — celebrating accomplishments and chronicling challenges — on a daily basis.
Because that is what journalism is about. And it’s why I have a hard time with the juxtaposition of the words “news” and “business.” A free press is indeed a cornerstone of our democratic way of life. It shouldn’t be tied to a business model.
I often get asked: What does that financial support look like? Across all three of the websites we publish, we have about 300 people who give to us regularly in some form. Some support us with a monthly voluntary online subscription, averaging $10 a month. Others mail us a one-time check of $50, $100 or as much as $500.
For transparency, we use the terms donation (one-time) and subscription (recurring) interchangeably because the only difference is how they are defined in our online system. We are not a non-profit, so we can’t give you a tax deduction. But we do NEED your support.
When you consider that we average 9,000 unique visitors A DAY across all three of our websites, a $10-per-month donation from 1,000 readers would give us the cushion we need to meet our monthly expenses. We value quality journalism, so we pay our regular contributors. These include our freelance writers and editors and photographers; our graphic designers and marketing support; our technical support people, and our web hosting. Not to mention the thousands of dollars we give BACK to our community each year through donations to local non-profits and other good causes.
My resolution for 2018 is to educate our readers that a truly FREE press is supported by our community as a whole. Not just by advertising dollars. But by those of you reading to the end of this column. Yes, you.
Will you support us? It’s easy. And it matters. You can do it HERE.
Wishing you all the best in 2018.