Free press survival

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

I think it’s fair to say that America’s bedrock commitment to a free press has never been under heavier assault than it is today.

Do we have a sound, independent, even fierce press corps that digs out the truth at any cost and spares no one? Or are we surrounded by faux news outlets, “bot” reporters, and marketing pieces masquerading as legitimate reviews?

Do we look to the press to inform us and enlighten us? Or do we read only those outlets that confirm our preconceived notions?

These questions go to the heart of our democracy, and truly should be asked by every American, of whatever political stripe or belief.

And asked not only of those producing the news sources we choose to read, but also of ourselves: We need to look in the mirror and decide what we truly want, and what we’re willing to pay for.

For a free press is certainly never free. It takes money to hire and train reporters, to cover their expenses, to produce and edit a paper, to print and distribute or disseminate it to readers, and even to retrieve and recycle the waste.

The more we get used to getting our news in the quickest, easiest, cheapest way, the less that news will be worth reading.

Present company excepted, that is.

After all, you now have in your hand, or on your screen, a free publication. At the Beacon, we do our best to provide vetted, timely, trustworthy information without watering it down or aiming above everyone’s head.

We comb through hundreds of stories each month from a wide variety of reputable news sources and bring you what we feel is the best and most pertinent, always keeping in mind our mission: to inform, educate and entertain people over the age of 50.

And yet, we are free. Literally. You can not only read everything we publish (and have published) online at any time without charge, but you can pick up a real newspaper, usually within a short distance of where you live or work, at no cost.

No cost to you, that is. But maintaining a staff of 15 professionals, printing more than 220,000 copies of four monthly publications, mailing copies to our subscribers and distributing the rest to more than 2,750 free distribution sites over an area exceeding 4,000 square miles — these things cost real money.

That’s where advertisers enter the picture. Since Benjamin Franklin bought the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, America’s community newspapers have relied on the revenue provided by advertisers to keep the paper’s cost low, or free, to readers.

The model worked well for about 275 years. Since about 2005, however, the growing world of digital communications and Internet advertising have steadily eaten into the revenues of newspapers of all types and sizes.

Daily newspapers have been most affected: draconian staff cuts, fewer pages of news, reduced readership, and rapidly declining revenues have decimated many dailies.

Yet so-called niche publications — those targeting particular readers or markets, whether by neighborhood, culture, religion, nationality or other characteristic (such as being over 50) — have continued to survive and, in some cases, thrive.

In our case, we benefit from the fact that there are still enough publications like ours to support well-run and legitimate wire services — such as the Associated Press, Tribune News Service, and the like — enabling them to continue to hire and support top-notch journalists producing stories printed by dozens or even hundreds of papers. Through such syndication services we are also able to bring you pertinent articles from reliable sources such as Kiplinger’s, Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic.

We purchase stories we feel will be of most interest and use to our readers. And we supplement these with our own writing, including local human interest stories, theatre and art reviews, and announcements about local events and programs.

Our sales team, for its part, scours the local business community for potential advertisers who provide services or products particularly needed by our readers, as well as government agencies and nonprofits who need to provide important information to our readers.

Why am I telling you all this, you ask?

Because it’s important that you know how essential this engine of ad revenue is to the survival of the Beacon and other free papers you may read. When you visit or call on Beacon advertisers that interest you, you can have a direct effect on our ability to continue publishing.

But this will only be true if you take a moment to mention — at some point in the process — that you saw their ad in the Beacon. That’s the only way our advertisers really know that their Beacon ad is successful.

And what if you see an ad in the Beacon and then visit their website to learn more or to make a purchase? Unfortunately for us, that’s basically impossible for advertisers to track unless you make a point of mentioning the Beacon in some fashion during the transaction.

This is difficult, I grant you, when there’s no human contact. But perhaps you can say something in a comment box, or write a review of the transaction, or even send an email to customer service: anything to let the seller know that you learned of them through the Beacon.

Some readers find it easier to simply write or email us at the Beacon now and then with a quick testimonial: telling us how an article, insert or even advertisement saved them money, improved their health, taught their doctor something, or just made their day.

Any or all of these efforts can help us retain our advertisers, who truly keep the Beacon free. Or almost free, for it turns out that I am asking something in return from you and from every other reader of our paper. 

Patronize those advertisers who have something to offer you. And please take a moment to mention the Beacon when you do. It can make all the difference.

We thank you.