Don Rogers: Yes, we need your help
Deciding to seek donations was easier at the lake, where the Sierra Sun is free. Besides, the north shore’s other news publication, Moonshine Ink, already was asking.
Pledge drives have long been a staple for public broadcasting stations, which also get more income from advertising, classed up as “underwriting.” For-profit or nonprofit, local news media are doing the same thing as business entities trying to support the coverage and the coverage aiming to be worthy of support.
But I had not thought about seeking contributions for The Union, a traditional community paper with home delivery and subscriptions, which mostly cover the costs of distribution. I had always figured the only way for a reader to help the paper was to sign up for a print or online subscription.
That is, until a couple of readers recently suggested they’d like to donate to The Union. We’d started with South Lake’s Tribune as an experiment and quickly expanded to the Sun. Thank you so much, by the way, to the people who have contributed so far, adding up to nearly $10,000 at the lake.
We’re hardly the only media organization affected. A friend told me my first employer in journalism, Feather Publishing based in Quincy, had just stopped printing all six of their weeklies. The News & Review in Reno, Chico and Sacramento ceased printing in March. Scores of papers have dropped editions, like The Union has, or shut down. May they all fire up the presses again when this passes.
But demand for local journalism has only soared.
The Union and the Sierra Sun have by far the most reporting resources in our communities, more than all the others put together.
This is not to brag or claim any high ground about quality, only an observation about the number of us devoted to this work. Any loss in our local news media lineup would be terrible. Moonshine, YubaNet, KVMR, KNCO, KTKE 101.5, and the public television stations at the lake and foothills have unique voices and appeal in our communities. I think each is fantastic.
Like them, we need help now at The Union as well as the Sun. We’re shaking all the trees with grant applications to Facebook and other organizations that support local journalism, advertisers in position to boost market share while so many pull back, and we just got a payroll loan this week that will enable us for a short time to boost our coverage of the pandemic and economic free-fall.
A harder call was asking a community to help a newspaper/news website that charges for subscriptions. We’re not the only one, but this was not usual, at least not until the pandemic struck. Then a lot of what had been considered unusual snapped into a way of life.
So we set up our website to accept donations. We emailed the first of our pitches for help, modeled in part off an online-only news site in Berkeley — Berkeleyside.com — which I’ve been following since meeting a co-founder at the Squaw Valley writing conference last summer.
In contributions of $10 and $25 and on up to $500, we raised $5,000 for The Union after that email. The replies and notifications of each contribution came to me, filling my in-box in 15 minutes after hitting send.
Sure, I got a handful of snotty messages. Three were political: one suggesting we’d get more support if more conservative; one contributing 2 cents with a note that too many editorial cartoons snub the president; and one longer email blasting us as another Breitbart, which makes Fox News look downright progressive. And then two others of the scalded, “how dare you ask” variety.
I had a fascinating back and forth with a Grass Valley resident who accused us of overlooking “the real pandemic.” What might that be? Well, all the crazy crime he sees on social media, where he gets all his news, so real to him he’s afraid to leave his house in one of this country’s safer communities. The stuff that doesn’t make the paper because, well, it’s mostly made up. A subscription might save his life, or at least help him understand he could safely join the rest of us enjoying downtown at night — after the pandemic passes.
But so many other people came forward with contributions, and some with heart-buoying messages for our crew to hang in there, keep at it, their work is so important and needed right now.
They loved up the local journalists and the others in the trenches who make the work possible. I’m thinking of one phone message in particular that moved my folks, and the caller was moved by us being moved when I left a message telling her how much our staff appreciated her kind words.
This is what we really are as a community, and overwhelmingly so. Not the comparative sprinkling of nasty posts on Facebook, but this.
The contributions help, and yes, we’ll follow a playbook I see in Berkeleyside for making our case. Thank you if you have made a contribution to us or other local news media. Please consider a donation if you haven’t already. We’ve added a tax-deductible means of accepting contributions, as well.
And thanks especially for the heartening messages to our staff. They mean everything.
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.
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