Don Rogers: Sierra Sun needs you
You might have noticed we’ve put a “Donate” button on the website. Of course we have. Everyone is.
The business of local news, especially newspapers and their online services, has sputtered as the search engines and aggregators — the Googles and the Facebooks — have taken the lion’s share of online revenues while leaving the relatively high cost of reporting to the news entities whose stories they pluck for free.
We still get the audience, sure, more than ever overall, but this equates to empty calories. And there are consequences.
News deserts are blistering across the country now. The local papers historically have carried the most reporting resources and effort, this base of journalism emerging ever clearer as essential for democracy and our republic. The research shows taxes and spending rise, governance suffers and residents lose touch without their local papers. Online-only sites, radio and television, long leaner with original reporting, haven’t filled the void and share the same troubles.
Newspapers appear on the brink of closing in droves. Twenty percent of the newspapers in business a decade ago are gone now, along with half their journalists. The papers — a bit of a misnomer — are also the main online news sources in most communities, and are well suited to the task, too. We can do live reports on video, podcasts, text alerts, postings to social media, all of that.
Advertising and marketing choices have fragmented, and the challenges we face also afflict retailers perhaps most of all. The brick-and-mortar businesses, services as well as goods, compete with often lower-cost online entities in this new era.
In mountain communities like ours, especially where copies of the paper are free to consumers, print readership has remained healthy. We even upped the Sierra Sun’s print run in response to readers coming to the office to get a paper when all the racks they checked were empty. Yes, even with a well read and updated website.
We’ve made moves to keep the business viable over these past couple of years, reducing editions from two times a week to Fridays. We closed the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, which unfortunately had operated at a loss for years and could no longer be propped up.
We adjusted staffing to focus our reporting and sales resources in and on the community while handling back-end processing in Grass Valley and Carson City.
Of course, the weather in a ski town remains the dominant force on the local economy, and everyone has learned there’s such a thing as too much as well as too little snow.
Our and our competitors’ editions are free to consumers, the right model in tourist towns and maybe the future everywhere. The paid metropolitan papers in Reno and Sacramento are among the hardest hit. Community dailies in Carson City and Auburn have dropped to a couple of editions a week. The reckoning is on. It’s a bit of a mess.
But we’re fortunate in Truckee and the adjoining lakeshore communities to have a couple of news publications at work, between the Sierra Sun and the monthly Moonshine Ink, along with the more tourist- and lifestyle-oriented Squaw Valley Times and Tahoe Weekly.
Our sister based in South Lake Tahoe, The Tribune, recently pioneered our donation concept with some early success. Like them, we’ll use donations solely for news reporting. As my colleague Publisher Rob Galloway writes, meaningful community reporting comes at a price, but so does the lack of it.
So here’s a request to help us do more and better, such as engage freelance help for stories and series on subjects of deep interest to us all, help with investigative costs, and broaden coverage, too. We’ll make donations count specifically in the news interests of our community.
We don’t charge for the paper, have no subscribers. But voluntary contributions as members just might make a difference for everyone. Come what may, we’ll keep working to do our part for a healthy, wise community armed with good information.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.