Stop the Presses: Behind the scenes

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net
 

Random thoughts on a beautiful Tuesday morning in the Valley, when I’d rather be outside taking an extra-long walk with the dog in the Tree Streets, winding down to Ridgeview Park before trekking back to the home office …
  

Not ‘free’ anymore We’ve made it past the 50-subscriber mark with as little controversy as I think was possible. One reader made a public display of dropping his subscription to the AFP Newsletter and even unfriended me on Facebook. (I was looking to send him a Facebook message suggesting no hard feelings. So much for no hard feelings.)

Another took to questioning the continued use of the word “Free” in our name. Then another reader pointed out that he used to read the Detroit Free Press, and it’s never been free.

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line, not that the vast majority of you didn’t get that when we intro’d the subscription plan last week. We can’t continue to commit countless hours to producing content for AugustaFreePress.com without something going toward our personal bottom line.

We rolled out a voluntary subscription package back in October and found a relative few takers. And I can’t blame most folks on holding back on the voluntary subscriptions. Subscribing to something voluntarily is a luxury, even at $5 a month. Even with the best of intentions it can be hard to pass with $5 a month when you can access the same content for free.

We had to create an economic imperative. And it’s the same economic imperative that the two daily papers in our region have in place and have had in place for decades. You want to read what we have to report, you’ve got to give us some money.

Now, they don’t make you pay for online content at the present time, but that model is going to have to change and change soon. It doesn’t make sense to me that they can continue to give away today what they expect you to give them 50 cents for tomorrow morning for too much longer.

Just for the record, we’re not trying to be ahead of the curve, though it seems that we are ahead of the curve right now. We’re just trying to justify our time on AugustaFreePress.com with competing demands from the parts of our business that are making money.

As I responded on one of the threads on Facebook initiated by a disgruntled reader, the alternative to a subscription model isn’t going back to an all-free-content model. It’s shutting down AugustaFreePress.com and moving on.

  

Quality, not necessarily quantity In a perfect world, we can give you both. I’d give you a well-researched Special Report every day like the series of Special Reports that we’ve offered in the past week on the Waynesboro economy.

A little behind-the-scenes perspective on those reports – it took us several weeks to produce them, from conceiving them, setting up interviews, conducting the interviews, doing the numbers research, transcribing the interviews and notes into organized files, then writing and rewriting them until they made sense.

I think that’s the value that we’ll offer readers – that we take the time to do the kinds of investigations that the daily papers here have decided isn’t enough of a moneymaker to do on a regular or really any kind of basis.

I’m not faulting them for thinking that way. I’m not sure that you can afford if you’re the News Leader or News Virginian to commit a reporter position to special projects in this economy. Those guys have already had to cut staff and furlough the people still on staff and close down in-house printing operations and the rest to keep their budgets in balance.

In-depth reporting costs money. The cost to a community that doesn’t have somebody asking the hard questions and demanding answers is immeasurable, but I think still substantial.

I also think that an entity like AugustaFreePress.com might be ideal for filling that void in the market. Our overhead is low, with two employees, and we have streams of revenue from other parts of our business that can sustain us as we build our niche in the market.

But, and I’m reinforcing an earlier point here, so bear with me – it can take time to connect the dots.

My roundabout way of saying, We’re working for you, even if it might not seem like it some days, when the subscription content is a column or a podcast that might come across as light fare in the grand scheme of things.

  

Tell us what you want us to look into We’re only as inquisitive as we can be ourselves and as much as the people around us can help us be. E-mail me at freepress2@ntelos.net or call 540.949.6574 to get us to thinking about what we could be best doing with our time in the reporting realm.


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