The new member-supported Town Crier

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By Jack and Becky Clark

Co-publishers

When we decided we needed to appeal to Town Crier readers, we had no idea what their response would be. We simply knew that relying on local business advertising would no longer work for our Hill, so Town Crier readers — the folk who seem to appreciate it most — would have to decide whether they still wanted the newspaper for our community.

We gave folks three weeks notice that the paper would no longer be free on the Hill on Sept. 7, thinking that not much would happen Membership-wise until then.

Well, instead, the response has been overwhelming. We still need to go a long way, but after only three weeks of the Membership model, we already are one-quarter of the way to the minimum amount we estimate we will need annually to pass the newspaper on. And the $1 paper is beginning only this week. You folks clearly want a continued newspaper on our Hill, both online and ink-on-paper, and you are stepping up to make that happen. We could be neither more grateful nor more proud of the people of our Hill community.

The Town Crier flag now boasts that it is a “Member Supported” newspaper. A Member-supported newspaper can serve our community endlessly into the future.

And by “people of our Hill community” we include the folk who are not full-time or even part-time residents, but who are acquiring TC Memberships now just because they love Idyllwild and its surrounding communities. Many of them hope to live here full-time some day, and they want the TC still serving our community when they do. Just this past Saturday alone, we welcomed new Charter Members from El Cajon, Fullerton, Glendale, Sherman Oaks and San Luis Obispo. We gratefully count these special people as part of our Hill community.

And, please remember: If you are an off-Hill Member and you come to the Hill without your current Town Crier issue, you can pick up a replacement free at the TC office from 9 to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and anytime you can catch someone in the office during off-hours and weekends. We’ve always done that for subscribers and will continue for Members.

The TC now has a magnificent start down the road to being a viable, Member-supported newspaper that can be passed on indefinitely to younger publishers dedicated to continuing a newspaper on our Hill. That is the objective.

Many, many thanks to all you Charter Members. Your early responses are encouraging other community-minded readers to join with you. As soon as the “Town Crier Member” decals arrive, we will be mailing them to you.

Idyllwild Town Crier
Charter Members

Saving and Supporting the Town Crier for our Community

(99 Charter Members as of Sept. 5, 2017)

Angels (4) — Other amount, unlimited above $1,000 annually:  Nancy Borchers-$2,000; Tom & Kathy Kluzak-$1,250; Sub Rosa Apothecary (Julia Meadows & Marc Peterman)-$1,200; (1) Anonymous-$2,500.

Heroes (1) — $1,000 annually:  (1) Anonymous-$1,000.

Patrons (2) — $500+ annually:  Darryl & Susan Heustis; Dave & Shanna Robb.

Sponsors (24) — $250+ annually:  Austin Tile (Chris & Julie Austin); Anne Bleaden;  Blair Ceniceros; Diann Coate; The Family Business (Craig & Janice Coopersmith); Dave & Laurie Fraser; Dick & Karen Hadik; Paula & Robert Hetzler; Ben & Nanci Killingsworth; Anne & Jon King; John Larue-$350; Jason Laurence & Alexandra Napier; Sue Nash & Tom Paulek; Linda McCaughin & Phil Strong; Charles & Margaret Mooney; Ben & Rue Pine; Dr. Andy Ridgwell; Martha & Scott Schroeder; Gary Schwandner; Adele & Bob Smith; Alex & Valerie Virtue; Kay Wanner & Charlies Wix; Brian Weiss; (1) Anonymous-$250.

Sustaining Readers (68) — $100+ annually:  Albert Bates; Ron Boustead & Ruth Riven (Boustead); Kenneth Camoirano; Bruce Campbell; Garrett & Harmeet Capune; Steve Chadwick; Duane Chamlee; Barbara & David Cutter; Michael & Margaret D’Ambra; Iris & Peter Davison; Greg & Nancy Dunlap; Marcia Edwards; Jennie & Steven Espinosa; Amy Fogerson & Kent Weishaus; Françoise Frigola; Roland Gaebert; Merle & Rosemarie Gardner; Dick & Jan Goldberg; Bob & Corrine Greenamyer; Emily & Eric Heebner; Don “Jac” & Mimi Jacaruso; Marilyn Kemple; Elaine Latimer; Donna Kennedy & William Linehan; Bob Lippert; Elaine Lockhart; Barbara & Michael Longbrook; Michèle Marsh & Peter Szabadi; Brian Marshall; Bret McCaughin-Strong; Maureen McElligott; Carol Mendoza; Middle Ridge, Inc. (Chris & Melody Johnston); Marcia & Richard Montaño; Dawn & Jim O’Keeffe; Steve Olson & Stephanie Yost; Anthony Pearson; Cecil  & Shirley Peters; Charles Phelan; Marlene & Thomas Pierce; Ed & Sandy Reed; George & Kathryn Reeves; Margaret & Ned Roberts; Maureen & Steve Rose; Bob & Tracy Sampson; Sandlin & Son Refrigeration (David Sandlin); Vic Scavarda; Richard Schnetzer; Jean Stein; James & Joanne Tenney; Arthur Tobias; Deidre & Joe Vail; Anne & Douglas Walker; Barb & Thom Wallace; Pamela Walton; Bill Waring; Sheila Weldon; Sharon & Stephen White; Jim Wise; Catherine Wood; James Wymer; (1) Anonymous@$200; (6) Anonymous@$100.

Please remember that the TC’s weekly news meeting is open to the public. That’s where decisions are made as to the stories to be covered in the next issue of the paper. Some readers have regularly attended and contributed for years. The meetings currently are at the Town Crier office at 54405 North Circle Drive, Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m., unless Monday is a Town Crier holiday — then the meeting is at 8:30 a.m. the following day, Thursday.

In case you missed it, the following is an updated version of the article originally published in the paper of Aug. 17:

Does the Town Crier have a future?

Our readers must decide.

[UPDATED significantly on Aug. 22, Aug. 29 & Sept. 5]

On June 28, 2013, our small, close corporation purchased the Town Crier, which had not made any money during the previous four-and-one-half years. We had one objective: to save the newspaper on our Hill. We could not imagine our community without one. Three weeks later our online coverage of the Mountain Fire for Hill evacuees underscored that point.

What is a “newspaper”? A newspaper is a community watchdog that publishes the bad with the good. It warns of danger, advises of opportunity, challenges authority, praises accomplishment, investigates irregularity, marvels at art, exposes abuse, celebrates life and publishes its readers’ letters. If a publication doesn’t do all of these things, it may be something else, but it’s not a newspaper.

Why does our Hill need a newspaper? Well, to do all of those things just mentioned — but particularly because we have nine local public boards that are funded by our tax dollars, and they make decisions and/or recommendations as to how to acquire and spend even more of our tax dollars — and they determine what public services we get for them. These nine are: the Fern Valley, Idyllwild, Lake Hemet and Pine Cove water districts; County Service Areas 26 and 28; Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners and the IFPD Finance Committee; and the Idyllwild Historical Review Board.

These local agencies are monitored by nobody but the Town Crier.

The old, traditional model for a community newspaper was to publish the news, sign up readers for subscriptions and sell advertising to local businesses. But subscriptions themselves never provided much revenue beyond paying for the postage to mail them out. A traditional community newspaper survived on advertising by local businesses.

When we began operating the Town Crier four years ago, it did not have enough business advertising to survive. So we tried a series of incentives in an attempt to attract advertising: We slashed our advertising prices by 25 percent, we offered full-color ads at no additional price, we tried publishing a promotional magazine, we introduced contests and new columns and improved our games, and our office remained open seven days a week as a Visitors Center to serve the needs of visitors to our Hill, hoping that serving them would increase business for our advertisers.

We tried “bundling” advertising in our various publications, providing deeper discounts for advertising in more than one publication. We changed printing companies and went to a broadsheet size because we knew it would produce a more reliable, better-quality newspaper with consistently sharper, more-colorful photos and ads, which it did.

Eight months ago, we made the Town Crier “free on the Hill” with free issues in each Hill mailbox, and the paper’s circulation went from about 2,350 to about 5,500 — more than 230 percent of what it had been previously — which meant more than twice as many eyes on our advertisers’ ads.

We distributed Town Crier publications at more than 60 locations around the Hill which resulted in thousands more Town Crier newspapers, Explore Idyllwild Directories and Explore Idyllwild Maps in the hands of Hill visitors than ever before. We published the Town Crier’s actual distribution and circulation numbers on page A4 every week, and we offered to share with potential advertisers the detailed records of our increased distribution and circulation.

We even appealed directly to local businesses’ sense of community spirit, asking them to support the Town Crier for the benefit of our whole community, growing their businesses through advertising at the same time.

Although these efforts helped somewhat, they did not produce nearly the needed level of advertising from our local businesses. Some businesses say they can’t afford to advertise (?), others say they don’t need to advertise (!), and some give no explanation at all. But, whatever the reason, the traditional advertiser-funded community newspaper model does not work on our Hill anymore. So we must try something different.

So, beginning with this issue, we can no longer provide the Town Crier free to the Hill.

We both are volunteers at the Town Crier, serving these years with no compensation. To be clear: no cash, wages, salaries, commissions, draws, advances, bonuses or dividends — no compensation of any type. (One month, we did try paying our publisher-editor minimum wage, but that lasted only one month. The paper couldn’t afford it.) Whenever we dine out, or stay at a hotel or motel, it’s all on our personal credit cards. The Town Crier cannot afford to budget for meals, travel or entertainment.

Being volunteers was fine for us, but it meant that when we retired the Town Crier would retire with us, since nobody likely would want to acquire a newspaper that is viable only if the editor, proofreader, pickup/distribution man, light-duty handyman and occasional lawyer all are willing to work for free. And since Jack is 72, our retirement will be sooner rather than later — not likely very much later than this time next year; perhaps sooner than that. So, our goal now is to quickly make the Town Crier financially viable so it can be acquired by other, younger publishers dedicated to providing a real newspaper for our Hill. And as we said in a recent follow-up story, we do not intend to retire before finding new publishers that are right for the Town Crier and our Hill.

The truly major difference we must now make is to our funding:

We now realize that Town Crier support is going to have to come from those who value us most — our readers. And our readers frequently tell us that they do not want just an online-only newspaper; they still want a real ink-on-paper newspaper, too.

We have received many “thank yous” and favorable comments from our readers who really do appreciate what the Town Crier is doing for our community. During the past 16-18 months alone, the Town Crier’s investigative journalism produced several articles revealing important information that had been misrepresented and/or concealed by our local governmental agencies. Our readers let us know they appreciated the Town Crier’s serious journalism informing them of these matters.

So, we now are making a last effort to keep the Town Crier serving our community: We are appealing to our readers to save and support the newspaper with Memberships at five levels of support: Sustaining Readers, Sponsors, Patrons, Heroes and Angels, depending upon what you feel you can afford to keep the Town Crier benefiting our community.

So, please take stock of your feelings about the value of the Town Crier and your ability and willingness to contribute to save and support it for our community. The Membership Application that follows this article will explain how you can help. We will routinely publish the results of this ongoing Membership drive in the Town Crier, so you can see how it is progressing. The importance is this: A Membership-supported newspaper can serve our community endlessly into the future.

We do realize that not everyone can afford to be a Member even if they want to be, and not everyone can fit a $1 newspaper into their budget each week. So a number of free papers still will be available at the HELP Center and the Town Crier office for those whose budget cannot allow for a newspaper — and the Idyllwild Library will always have the Town Crier on file, too.

Thanks to you, our readers, for your attention, and for all your well wishes and support over the years.

We also thank those businesses who have supported the Town Crier with their advertising and continue to do so; we wish there were more of you.

We both feel enormously happy to have been able to give our Hill a real community newspaper during the past four-plus years.

With our great appreciation and thanks.

– Jack and Becky Clark

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