The B Square Beacon: Local news experiment goes month-to-month into 2021

I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who has made a financial contribution to The B Square Beacon over the last 11 months.

The B Square Beacon’s logo is the letter “B” inside a square. (Because there is no money to hire someone with graphic design skillz.)

Based on those contributions, I plan to continue operations into 2021 by still putting nearly every waking moment into reporting on local government in the Bloomington area.

But this year, that comes with a caveat.

I can’t afford to make the same kind of year-long commitment I did at the beginning of 2020.

I can’t make a commitment to another full year, because I need to start looking for an alternative way to make ends meet, in case voluntary contributions don’t eventually rise to a level that can sustain a livelihood.

Instead of a year-long commitment, I’ll take it a month at a time. If I have to stop putting a complete effort into The Square Beacon, I’ll try to give readers a month’s notice, probably on the second day of the calendar month.

That means I’ll be setting aside some time in my routine to look for a regular job. If The Square Beacon’s financial target is hit before I find other work, I will stop looking.

The monthly goal of $3,333 in total revenue is based on income of $35,000 with $5,000 more to cover expenses. Expenses include website hosting, broadband connection, data plan for cell phone, laptop computer, cell phone, camera, ball point pens, note pads, etc.

The  monthly pledges of around $1,950 a month will work out to an annual income of around $20,000. It’s easy to bellyache about how that translates into an hourly wage. But I don’t think of journalism as shift work. So it’s not sheer lunacy to think I might ought to keep at it a while longer, when it’s not clear what the alternative might be.

The job market in Bloomington is tough. I know that, because when I moved back to town in late 2018, running a local news operation was not my first choice of ways to earn a living. I more or less resorted to it.

It sure would be nice to work for someone who is not the worst boss ever, but it might turn out that The Square Beacon is the best gig I am able to land.

For readers unfamiliar with The Square Beacon’s history, here’s a quick sketch.  On July 1, 2019, I soft-launched the publication as a one-person, full-effort, online-only news outlet for the Bloomington, Indiana area, focusing on local government and civic news.

The hard launch, with a funding mechanism on Patreon, came six months later, on Jan. 1, 2020. My plan had been to provide six months of coverage as an example of the kind of journalism that potential contributors could expect.

I was just trying to follow the old writer’s adage: Show, don’t tell. I thought that if I showed readers around 300 examples of stories, that would be more convincing than telling them about some grand vision of local journalism.

The Square Beacon’s coverage provides what I think any civic-minded resident would demand from a local news publication. I don’t think that kind of coverage is provided by any other local news outlet. I don’t see any traditional local outlets that routinely advocate for transparency on behalf of the public, and scrutinize decisions of local leaders.

I’m hopeful that more readers will eventually decide that they want to support a locally-owned news outfit that equips them with the information that supports effective participation in their local government.

My wager was that a large enough crowd of civic-minded residents would recognize that The Square Beacon’s coverage deserves their financial support, so that at least one reporter could be funded. My hope was that the community’s response would be strong enough to fund not just one reporter, but a whole newsroom.

It has been a great privilege to be able to write about local government in the Bloomington area for the last year and a half.

I hope it works out that I am able to continue for years to come. But I don’t have the financial resources to guarantee that will happen.

Anyhow, see you next month, at least!

Until then, be square.

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