Our readers must decide
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 do we feel our Hill needs a newspaper? Well, to do all of those things we just mentioned above — but particularly because we have nine local public boards that are funded by our tax dollars, and they make decisions and recommendations as to how to spend even more of our tax monies — and what public services we get for them.
These nine boards 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 provide much revenue beyond paying for the postage to mail them out. A traditional community newspaper survives 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 a promotional magazine, we introduced contests and new columns, and improved our games, and our office remained open seven days a week to serve the needs of visitors to our Hill, hoping that those visitors would increase business for our advertisers.
We tried “bundling” advertising in our various publications, providing more 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. Seven months ago, we made the Town Crier “free to the Hill,” 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 town, 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 circulation.
We even made direct appeals to local businesses’ civic spirit, asking them to support the Town Crier for the benefit of our community, growing their businesses through advertising at the same time.
Although these efforts helped somewhat, they did not produce 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 newspaper model does not work on our Hill anymore. So we must try something different.
Beginning with the issue of Sept. 7, we can no longer provide the Town Crier free to hill mailboxes.*
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 to 18 months alone, the Town Crier’s investigative journalism produced several articles revealing important information being misrepresented and or concealed by our local governmental boards. Our readers let us know our journalism was appreciated.
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 an online-only newspaper; they still want a real ink-on-paper newspaper, too.
So, we are now making a last effort to keep the Town Crier serving our community: We are appealing to our readers to save 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.
We both are volunteers at the Town Crier, serving these years with no compensation. As it stands now, when we retire the Town Crier will retire with us. And since Jack is 72, that will be soon — not likely much later than this time next year; likely sooner than that. Our goal now is to quickly make the Town Crier financially viable so we can pass it on to other publishers wishing to operate a real newspaper for our Hill.
So, please take stock of your feelings about the value of the Town Crier and your ability and willingness to contribute to save 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.
Thanks to 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 years.
With our great appreciation and thanks.
– Jack and Becky Clark
*This point has been updated from the print edition. The Town Crier will still be available for free to Hill residents, but will not be mailed to all Hill post office boxes.