Almost eight years ago, exactly, I sat down with our rather small staff at The Leader and told them about an idea I wanted to try at our newspaper. For exactly 57 years, The Leader had survived by asking local businesses to use the paper as a means for marketing. That was our entire business model, and it was fading – fast.
Over the past decade, the ways businesses advertise has changed drastically, and in order for us to survive, we needed our readers to help support the mission and the purpose of locally relevant journalism.
So in 2012, with basically nothing to lose, we announced a program called Voluntary Pay, where we asked our readers to consider supporting our newspaper through a contribution, no matter what size.
Taking a leap and asking for money was seen by many as a sign of defeat for The Leader and print journalism. In fact, it was such a public admission of need that one of the Houston TV networks had a reporter call me so he could do a story on the demise of another community newspaper.
What happened that first year brought chill bumps to my skin. The number of envelopes that filled our P.O. Box was unimaginable. More than 1,000 readers took the time to send a check our way – some of them big, all of them humbling.
This year, when we again asked our readers to consider supporting The Leader, I’ll admit I was reticent about the idea. These are not the best of times in our nation, and with millions of people out of work – and many in our area of Houston – I felt the timing was absolutely miserable.
Here’s what I also knew: The value of an honest press, one that only seeks to report what happens in our neighborhoods, is incredibly valuable to the synergy of our community. Without a filtered, fair press, we’re left with the clutter of social media, and there’s nothing healthy about unchecked and often reckless information.
On top of that, about half of the businesses that have used The Leader to market were forced to close during the pandemic, and they certainly weren’t able to spend ad dollars when their doors were closed. The result, as you might imagine, was a 50-percent drop in our newspaper’s revenue stream, and you can imagine how difficult that has been to overcome.
Given the difficulty of the times, I’m not sure there are enough ways to express my gratitude to the people in our community who have once again made a commitment to local journalism. While we haven’t quite set a record for contributions, the number of people who have written us a check, sent us a note, or gone online to support The Leader is overwhelming.
And what’s even better about these contributions are the personal notes you’ve sent along the way.
“I moved to Oak Forest Subdivision in Houston – year 1960 – and have been reading and enjoying The Leader every week since then. I have never enjoyed it more than I do now,” wrote one person. “…I must let Jonathan know that the pieces he writes about his children are absolutely hilarious… Please continue to take those of us with grown children back to those fun but frustrating days.”
You can imagine how much that letter meant to me, personally. Others have seemed to understand why we believe we’re still important to our community.
“Thank you and your team for y’all’s unwavering distribution of The Leader each week; super journalism at its best.”
Another person made a dead-on observation of our editor. “We appreciate Adam Zuvanich’s balanced reporting in regard to our neighborhood – Garden Oaks.”
Adam has covered some difficult stories about GOMO and the plight of the neighborhood, and even the people who live there understand he’s done a tremendous job presenting the facts.
And then there are letters that should make us all giggle.
“I am a strong supporter of good journalism and, to date, your publication has shown that consistently… Most particularly, however, I am a big fan of Lynn Ashby’s column and read it religiously every week.”
As you might guess, the very next letter I got said, “I refuse to send you any money. How about you try being a balanced newspaper – get rid of Lynn Ashby…”
A few envelopes later, we received a check and a Sharpie-inscribed “Keep Lynn Ashby.”
A few envelopes later, another envelope came with no money. “Delete Lynn Ashby,” the unsigned reader said.
To all of you who have chosen to support The Leader, and those still considering making a donation at https://theleadernews.com/donation/, I don’t know how to thank you enough.
And to those who want us to keep Lynn Ashby around a bit longer, we plan on doing so. To the readers who want us to delete Lynn Ashby (and sent us no money for the effort – ha), here’s what I’d tell you. Lynn may lean a little left, and many accuse me of leaning right, but I know for certain The Leader leans right down the middle. We’re not a newspaper that deletes information just because some disagree with the premise. We don’t do that for any side of the argument, and we never will.
From the bottom of my heart, thanks to all our readers who understand that.