Viewpoint - June 29, 2011

Editorial: Why your help is needed to keep the Almanac and local journalism strong

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." — Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson might well sound the alarm today about profound changes under way in the media business, ranging from the way news is gathered and presented to the way it is funded.

These changes threaten the viability of quality local journalism everywhere, including in the Almanac communities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside.

Imagine trying to stay informed on the issues before the city council or school board without journalists covering meetings, asking questions, and presenting analyses for debate and discussion throughout the community.

Local weekly newspapers have traditionally been the heart and soul of a community's identity and culture. They reflect the values of the residents and businesses, challenge assumptions, and shine a light on our imperfections and aspirations.

But as more residents turn online to stay informed about our community, and businesses rocked by the recession turn to inexpensive marketing alternatives, the traditional business model that allowed local journalism to be primarily supported through advertising is quickly evaporating.

That's why we've launched our campaign to Support Local Journalism.

Unlike national and international news, there is no substitute for locally produced news. By its very nature, local news depends on local newsgathering.

Local news is as popular and as highly valued as ever. In fact, the total number of people we reach has expanded substantially due to our website and "Express," our popular news digest sent out by e-mail every weekday morning.

All of our efforts are geared to creating greater public awareness and engagement — toward building a stronger community.

So if local readership interest has never been greater, what's the problem?

The problem is that the advertising business model for newspapers no longer works the way it used to. Craig's List is a prime example of this. Classified ads used to make up a significant portion of newspaper ad revenue. If you wanted to buy a used car, rent an apartment, look for a job or a mate, you opened your newspaper and scanned the ads. Add the current worldwide economic crisis and you have the "perfect storm" of radical change in the news and information industry and how it is financed, at every level.

Bottom line: The days of expecting local advertising to fund 90 percent of the cost of operating a quality local media organization are gone.

We need you — the citizens who value and benefit from the professional reporting we do and who recognize the critical role of the media in monitoring and, when needed, challenging the actions of local government and other institutions — to commit to funding a much greater share of our operations.

So here is our proposition:

Sign up to become a "subscribing member" and agree to an automated monthly credit card (or bank debit) charge of $5, $8 or $10. By automating this process, you eliminate the need for us to spend money to repeatedly solicit your renewal of support. You can, of course, cancel at any time.

As a member, we will provide you with some special "perks" that you might enjoy or appreciate, including a "Support Local Journalism" bumper sticker, a small gift, and some special invitations to events.

It's simple. Go to and fill out the online form, phone us at (650) 854-2626, or return the form you'll receive in the mail later this week.

We believe the vast majority of residents have always shared our view of the value and necessity of a strong local media and are willing to provide support equal to two or three cups of coffee a month to secure its future. This same model works well for KQED, so why not in support of the media organization that focuses exclusively on our community?

Thanks for doing your part to keep strong local journalism alive and well in the Almanac communities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside.


Posted by "Page One", a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 28, 2011 at 2:40 pm

This is a Very important issue to bring forward and I want to thank the Almanac for expressing it.
I have worried for years about the local advertising revenue pressures brought to bare on the local Press --most all of it driven solely by real estate and development interests.
The forth estate would much better serve the broader public interest with a lot less "real" estate involved.
It has been long acknowledged, but not yet resolved, that campaign finance reform is a parallel example of how special interests can skew both perception and reality by undermining democratic process----with or without intention.
I will happily subscribe to any campaign that might finally set the Press free.
But please Almanac, sell only one ten dollar subscription to the APOA.

Posted by 21st Century News Junkie, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 29, 2011 at 6:26 am

Both Murdoch and Price (PA Daily Post) have already stumbled upon this issue and have different, but apparently effective solutions.

Murdoch ("The Daily", WSJ, etc) has started putting up pay walls. You get some content for free, but if you want more, you have to pay.

Price simply doesn't put anything on the Internet. You've got to go find his paper. People do. He, therefore, gets businesses to pay for his advertising space.

I get the Sunday paper for $20/year, but rarely read it. The notion of a relaxing morning with coffee and the paper is appealing, but the iPad is so much more convenient. I get their content online despite having the paper version available.

I think the answer for the Almanac is to erect a pay wall. The voluntary subscription model might induce some payments, but it won't generate the revenue they need.

A voluntary payment feels like donating to charity. A subscription feels like I'm purchasing a product or creating a contract where they promise to provide me with something of value. They don't have any obligation for a donation.

There's nothing like being faced with having to read an article which is inaccessible on the web and being given the option to pay. Impulse wins every time, especially for a few bucks a month. Pay wall is the answer.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 29, 2011 at 11:27 am

I agree about a pay wall for the Almanac, but it seems too early to create one now. Let the idea take hold.

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