We were about six months into Wednesday Journal Inc. back in 1980 and the money we’d raised was running out. The check to the printer the previous week had bounced — not by much but it bounced — and now the printer wanted a certified check before he’d print the next issue.
That was a moment. And I remember thinking as a chastened 24-year-old, “This is the greatest job ever but, Dan, you don’t have a God-given right to publish this newspaper. Figure it out. Make this work.”
Back then the figuring it out was learning how to sell advertising. And we did. Lots of advertising. Lots of grassroots reporting. Lots of connections in all the neighborhoods we came to serve.
Here we are 39 years later and it is, once again, a moment.
And while selling advertising will remain vital to us, there is a whirlwind around independent community journalism all across America that threatens its future, threatens our future as the publishers of newspapers like the Austin Weekly News, which Wednesday Journal Inc. purchased more than 20 years ago.
We don’t have a God-given right to keep publishing and you don’t have a right to expect a Breaking News Update in your e-mail or a print copy in your mailbox — not if we all just sit back and think of better days.
It is time to open the hood and rebuild the engine — possibly a bad metaphor as I’ve never rebuilt an engine, hardly opened the hood but you get the point. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s metaphor might be more apt, that sometimes change is like redesigning the airplane while you’re flying it.
So that is what we are doing. Crafting a new business model that builds on our strengths, widens our base of local support beyond just advertising and opens the door to more reporters, more ways to tell our stories, more voices from the neighborhoods.
We start knowing that the work we do every day in all seven neighborhoods we cover is essential. Independent community journalism holds local governments to account. It connects neighbors. It is the credible source when social media goes haywire. It allows a community to debate and celebrate.
Now we need to add a new revenue stream to our mix of advertising and print subscribers. For that we have created a non-profit called Growing Community Media that will soon own these four publications and work diligently to broaden local partnerships and donations. Think of it as public radio without the pledge drives. (Though we will be persistent in asking for you to join in.)
We are turning to our supporters in these neighborhoods, individuals who grasp the importance of independent local journalism; readers, specifically our thousands of digital-only readers, who, when they think about it, know someone has to pay these reporters, photographers, and designers; and, more gradually, to local and national foundations, some of whom have suddenly begun to take very seriously the possibility that neighborhood journalism could vanish, leaving a hole in our democracy.
How can you help? Jump in with your active support. Talk up the importance of the Austin Weekly News to neighbors. Critique our efforts. As we raise more money, what stories should we be telling? And what stories can you help us tell? Become a Digital Member with a one-time donation or a monthly donation. Brag about it after you donate. Saving independent community journalism is good work.
Non-profit journalism is the future of journalism. It is all around us and being supported by everyday people who know in their bones that life is all about community and that community needs active means to connect and grow.
Here’s how to donate: AustinWeeklyNews.com/donate.
Want to talk about other ways we can partner to grow community? Reach out directly to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.