About a month ago, in a national publication called The Atlantic, an opinion piece started with this wonderful paragraph: “Among the important steps you should take during this crisis: Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And buy a subscription to your local newspaper.”
If we charged for subscriptions at The Leader, that would be a near perfect way for me to start this week’s column. Instead, I’ve got some explaining to do.
As many of our readers know, we started a program back in 2012 called our Voluntary Pay Program. Each year, usually in December, I’d write a fancy, gut-wrenching column like this one, explaining that in a couple of weeks, you’re going to get a letter in the paper asking if you’d consider supporting local journalism.
Last year, we decided to put off the Voluntary Pay Program because many readers said asking for donations right around the holidays was just terrible timing.
This year, we planned on sending you this message the first week of March. Ha, now wouldn’t that have been something? Dear readers, while you’re all cooped up in your houses, wondering if you’ll have a job tomorrow, would you please throw a bacteria-stained stamp on an envelope and consider supporting your local newspaper?
If I’m honest, our original plan was to hold off on this program until the fall, or maybe even wait until next year, but at a time when we need strong, local, vetted and trusted news, put us in the long line of businesses that have had a really tough time through this pandemic.
I read a story earlier this week about a company in California that had to close all of its community newspapers. The owner of the newspapers had a line worth repeating, if only summarized. “Look,” he said, “I’m a really good salesperson. But it’s hard to sell advertising to businesses that aren’t open.”
If you don’t know the specifics of how The Leader operates, we’re a newspaper completely funded by local businesses. From our hospitals to our Realtors to our restaurants, banks and boutiques, our business model is simple, if not a bit outdated. We work really hard to create a news product worth reading each week. And if we do a good job attracting readers, local businesses want to be associated with that content.
Study after study shows the best advertising results come around strong editorial content, and for decades, The Leader has produced excellent content.
But today, as I’ve done in years’ past, it’s time I ask you to consider supporting The Leader, the people who work for us, and the overall mission we have of producing trusted, relevant content to the homes and businesses in our slice of north and northwest Houston.
In The Leader’s June 6 edition, you’re going to find a letter from me, along with an addressed envelope asking you to consider supporting our work. (Oh, and we’re putting the letters and envelopes through a machine to insert in the paper, in case you’re worried about the spread of germs.)
As we’ve done in the past, we’ll offer suggestions for donation amounts. Maybe you can afford 50 cents a week ($26), or maybe you can handle $1 a week ($52), or maybe you have more that you can share. For that matter, think about us as a restaurant – maybe we’re worth one good meal a year for your family, except you keep getting fed each week with new and fresh information about this area of Houston.
Across the world, there has been a trend over the past few years for newspapers to move toward a more subscriber-based business model. Instead of relying on advertisers, who have flocked to Google and Facebook, places like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and even the Houston Chronicle have relied more and more on readers footing the bill.
Consider the cost of the Houston Chronicle, which will deliver the Sunday edition and give you unlimited digital access for $255 per year. Sure, they’ve got all those fancy sports stories, but for one paper a week (same as The Leader), they ask for much more than we’d ever ask.
Look, I’ve never once compared The Leader to the Chronicle, much less the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. We don’t have the staff or the experience or the depth of reporting that those esteemed publishers have at their disposal. But for what we have, I do believe we’re the Times or the Journal or the Chronicle of our small area of Houston. In fact, pound for pound, I believe our staff is one of the best in the country.
In just the past year, we’ve helped spotlight businesses like Signature Smiles that apparently took advantage of their customers. After our reporting, complaints were filed and lawsuits are in the works. We held their owners accountable.
We’ve supported local businesses, even ones that have been taken advantage of by criminals. Some of our reporting led to Houston’s police chief calling a meeting with area businesses and seeking ways to better protect those businesses.
We covered the Acres Homes concrete plant mess from proposed start to, eventually, seeing that company take their plant elsewhere and away from residential homes.
And we even helped a disabled Oak Forest senior citizen recover $3,500 from a national company that tried to take advantage of one of our neighbors.
At The Leader, we’ve done everything in our power to run a fair, relevant news product, and we’ve always sought to operate our business efficiently and effectively, saving expenses in every manner possible.
Right now, this year, we do need your help, and I’m forever indebted to the readers who have supported The Leader for the eight years I’ve tried to steer this ship.
Be on the lookout for that letter or our social media postings in the next couple of weeks. Or if you’d like to go ahead and help, visit the donations page on our website, www.theleadernews.com/donation