WITH THIS ISSUE we begin our 11th year in print. Technically speaking that makes us an adolescent… the paper not the staff.
The well-thumbed “Random House Dictionary of the English Language Second Edition–Unabridged” that sits next to this laptop defines adolescence as “a period or stage of development … preceding maturity.” Okay. I’m in no rush to grow up.
A literal back-of-an-envelope estimate says there have been about 580 issues of The Columbia Paper since the first one appeared April 16, 2009. That’s well over 12,000 pages which, when laid out end to end, would stretch (drum roll) 41 miles. All of it recyclable.
Ten years ago we were advised not to start a newspaper. The economy was in the worst shape since the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of people were losing their jobs every month and many of us were laid off when a local newspaper called The Independent was shut down by its corporate owner. The stock markets had tanked and newspapers in particular were hit hard by the overall loss of advertising and by the arrival of digital ads that began luring readers and advertisers away from print and onto the internet. The advice to forget the newspaper made sense. We ignored it.
If you’re not willing to take risks, don’t go into the newspaper business. We never know how many papers we’ll sell each week at the nearly 80 places around the county that carry The Columbia Paper. But we do know how many copies are delivered weekly by the U.S. Postal Service to our paying subscribers, almost all of them in Columbia County. Subscribers make up over 55% of our total distribution and we believe more people would subscribe, if they knew about The Columbia Paper. Finding those potential new subscribers is one of the biggest challenges we face. It’s also how we gauge our progress.
Thanks to you, our readers, we have grown almost every year since we began but we still have to “earn” each subscriber. Last year we passed a milestone when our annual report to the Postal Service showed that for paid-circulation newspapers published in this county, The Columbia Paper has the largest average per-issue distribution.
How large is that? Last year we distributed 2,496 papers weekly on average. To put that number in perspective, there are about 25,000 households in the county according to U.S. Census data. So we’re in nearly 10% of county homes–every week.
Our news stories, obituaries, police blotter and editorials are also posted online at www.columbiapaper.com. We currently have 11,000 visitors to the website each month. In the digital world that’s small but for this county of 60,604 people (and still shrinking) it’s further evidence that there’s an audience for local news and county residents are turning to us for that service.
We recently learned of a survey that said the public sees newspapers as financially successful businesses. It depends on how you define success. If you want a real quick return on investment, look elsewhere. A community newspaper is unlikely to make you or anyone else rich. But it’s worth doing if you can add a new voice to your community, tell your neighbors the good things that are happening as well as the bad and shine some light on the functions of local government and local institutions. All this has value but there are easier ways to make a living, let alone a profit.
We have no choice but to grow and adapt. And we still need your help. There are the simple things like mentioning to merchants and service providers that you’ve seen their ads in The Columbia Paper. Be sure groups that you belong to are letting us know in a timely way when you have events open to the public. We publish them in the paper in most cases with no charge. And if you don’t already do it, please subscribe.
People spend a lot of time on social media, like Facebook. But before the arrival of the internet and right up to the present there’s another social media platform: letters to the editor. We welcome them (be sure to include your phone number for confirmation); readers read them. The address is email@example.com
Maybe it’s an adolescent’s dream that a strong, independent local news organization is a sign of a healthy, engaged community. But in an era when the sources of reliable local news are drying up, we still believe what we’re doing is a service business worth pursuing and we’re grateful to you for helping support it.