As long-time followers of The Leader know, we started a program in 2012 called Voluntary Pay in which we asked our readers to consider supporting local journalism through a donation to our newspaper.
That’s a tough thing for a publisher of a FREE newspaper to ask of his readers, and you’ll have to trust that I understand the irony.
We pride ourselves on being a free publication. We love delivering a product to our readers and doing it for the sake of keeping our community informed. We enjoy walking into stores all across this area and seeing empty racks where our papers once sat, knowing thousands of people made it a point to stop and pick up a copy of The Leader without having to dig in their wallets.
There are other reasons I struggle asking for money from faithful readers.
For starters, it’s not like the news business, in general, has had a very good year. Whether it’s the stench of untrustworthy reporting (fake news), or the maelstrom caused across this country by a divisive press that would rather push harsh headlines than lead our nation in civil discourse, the reputation of the media has taken a well-deserved gut-shot this year.
It’s also tough for a news organization like ours to ask for financial support when so much of the news you receive daily is free. Nearly all of you can open your social media feeds and find a trove of stories important to you and your friends, and it costs you absolutely nothing to click on a link and see the news of the day. Maybe The Leader is one of the free sources of news, created by our paid journalists, you find in your feed ever so often.
And of all the years, it’s difficult to ask for money from our readers this year because of what our city has endured over the past three months. The devastation from Hurricane Harvey impacted every single one of us in one way or another. Many of you had to replace entire floors of your homes. If you didn’t, you either put on your rubber boots and helped a friend, or you donated money to a cause in this city that promised to send money to the neediest.
We know that feeling at The Leader, because Harvey shut down our office for six weeks and dealt our business a tough blow in the process.
Those are all valid, but may I offer a few reasons you might consider supporting us?
For the past 10 years, there has been a seismic change in the news business, for better or for worse. The better part is that news is everywhere. More people read the content of The Leader in 2017 than they ever have in the 63-year history of this publication. The same can be said for the Houston Chronicle, the New York Times and the Podunk Daily Bugler. There isn’t a newspaper anywhere in this nation that doesn’t have more readers today than it did 10 years ago.
The “worse” part is that the companies that once funded journalism – advertisers – have shifted their marketing budgets. This isn’t news to anyone, but the businesses that once used newspapers to reach consumers now just open a Facebook page and post their goings-on.
I could spend 10,000 words explaining why marketing strategies of local businesses should be diverse through both social and traditional media – more “Likes” don’t pay the light bill – but we’ll save that for later.
The reality is that news organizations like ours are rapidly changing, and the best example can be seen in the Old Gray Lady, The New York Times. For the first time in the 166-year history of the NYT, subscriber revenue now outpaces advertising revenue.
What that means is readers are now funding the journalism produced at the nation’s most famous newspaper.
Is that a reason to support The Leader? Hardly. We don’t have any delusions that we’re anything close to the Times, or even the Chronicle, for that matter. I tell folks we aren’t even in the same industry.
No, our industry – our mission – is quite different than the big papers of the world. Our job is not to chase down national politicians. We aren’t responsible for printing dossiers. We don’t have an editorial staff of hundreds who each take two weeks to write one story on a favorite cause.
What we do is so much different, and I humbly believe it is so much more important for the people who live and work in our community.
Our job is to tell you what’s happening across the street – not across the pond. We tell you about the new tenants on 19th and 34th better than anyone else. Who covers the artists and restaurants of our area better than The Leader? We told stories of the heroes who helped rescue our community after Harvey, and we’re the only ones who make it our mission to improve the public safety in our neighborhoods.
Your newspaper has never been accused of being fake. Your newspaper has never been a stuffy assembly of pompous dictations.
No, your newspaper is, basically, you. I believe we are the most trusted form of news around, and I’m proud of the few people we have who help produce The Leader each week.
So yes, it is hard to ask our readers for financial support. At the same time, I believe we offer a product in this community that no one can or will ever provide. There’s no social media platform that you can trust more than ours, and there is no organization, or unorganized effort, that covers the Heights, Oak Forest, Garden Oaks or the neighborhoods of North Houston better than The Leader.
If you’d like to sustain local journalism, you’ll see a letter and envelope in this newspaper in the next couple of weeks that gives you that opportunity. Our website, theleadernews.com, has a place at the top of the page for you to contribute. And last, we’ve added one more avenue for donations this year. You can go to GoFundMe.com/FromTheLeader and donate there.
If you can help keep local news sustainable, I promise we will do our best to continue our role as a Leader in this community.
SUPPORT THE LEADER: https://www.gofundme.com/FromTheLeader