Starting on July 1, 2019, I’ve been writing and reporting for The B Square Beacon full time as a proof of concept. I’ve reported about 10 stories a week in the last six months (250 and counting) to help answer a question I am often asked: What kind of approach do you take to local journalism?
If you’ve read some of these stories, I hope that question has been answered for you. The Beacon is currently focused on Bloomington area local government and civics, and aims to bring you timely stories that are free from fluff and filled with facts.
If you’re satisfied with that answer, I’d like to pose a question to you:
Would you consider stepping up to help sustain this kind of local, independent journalism, so that The Beacon’s work can continue and expand?
Your recurring financial contribution will help ensure that The Beacon’s approach to local journalism burns bright into the future.
I am committing to a full-time effort for at least year of The Beacon starting Jan. 1, 2020. If readers contribute enough financial support, I’ll finish out my working life with this project.
How much is “enough”? How much are you asking me to contribute? The American Community Survey puts the 2017 median family income for Monroe County at $69,459. I live in a two-person family. Split roughly down the middle, that’s $35,000. If I ballpark roughly $5,000 for overhead (website, computing, camera gear, travel, etc.) that’s $40,000 as a revenue goal.
Revenue of $40,000 annually translates to $3,333 per month.
I think it’s realistic to hope at least 500 of you would be willing to support the kind of local journalism I think the Bloomington area deserves. The math on that works out to $6.67 a month. That’s why I think the basic options offered should be: $5, $10, and $15 per month.
Readers who make contributions will be listed on a separate page of the website called “Guiding Lights.” Contributions can be made through an online system that automatically charges your card each month.
What can I expect if we contributors are able to generate more than enough support? Here’s how I would allocate additional full-time efforts, in order of priority.
- Hire 1 (Dave): city/county government
- Hire 2: more city/county government plus some K-12 education
- Hire 3: K-12 education
- Hire 4: State government as it relates to Monroe County, including Indiana University
- Hire 5: Retail business and commercial
- Hire 6: Copy desk, including handling press releases
- Hire 7: High school sports
- Hire 8: Spot news (crime, crashes, fires, power outages, inclement weather)
What kind of local journalism will my contribution help support? The Beacon is different from most news outlets, because it assumes its readers are critical thinkers.
That means you’ll get lots of detail and data in stories that are just crammed full of facts. Sometimes you’ll be able to use The Beacon’s reporting as a kind of reference work. You’ll get maps and charts that are custom-built by The Beacon to support the words in the article.
We don’t try to fool readers into thinking The Beacon did an interview when it didn’t. So if the information came from a press release, it will be labeled like that. There’s a difference between writing, “Mayor John Hamilton said, ‘Bloomington is a great town.'” and “Mayor John Hamilton is quoted in the city’s press release as saying, “Bloomington is a great town.'”
The Beacon aims to provide readers with access to original source material. If the story is about a lawsuit filing, you can expect to find a link to the actual filing. If you don’t find one, it’s fair game to say: Hey, where’s the source?
The standard that digital news publications should meet for correction of errors should be to strike through the
erroneous text and highlight the in the place where the error was committed. In addition, there should be some place where all the errors are aggregated. The Beacon meets that standard.
Why should I believe you’re going to stick with this? I’ve done this before and I know what I’m doing.
The online-only Ann Arbor Chronicle earned my livelihood for six years. I worked for two daily print newspapers in South Dakota before arriving back in Indiana, where I grew up. (I graduated Columbus North High School in 1982.)
So I’m not going to wilt like some fragile flower under the stress of writing and reporting every waking moment. I’m committing to at least one year of The Beacon, no matter what, starting Jan. 1, 2020.
What do I get as a patron that freeloaders don’t get? First, it’s not fair to call everybody who reads The Beacon, but doesn’t contribute, a freeloader. Some people don’t have the extra $5 or $10 a month to spare.
And I think someone from Muncie should be able to land on The Beacon and read an article about Bloomington’s police department budgeting, without crashing into a paywall. That’s why I don’t want to put The Beacon behind a paywall.
What patrons get is a regular email message with links to recent posts. The message will include a “Dave’s Digest”—a short description of my work plan for the day, and maybe a request for some feedback. But guess what: Even people who just ask to have their email address added to the regular email list will be added. Asking to be added is also a kind of payment.
Think of it as a kind of faux-insider list where anyone can be be a part of it, just for asking.
Patreon, the platform where you can make a recurring monthly contribution, offers all kinds of creative ways (they’re called “tiers”) to give patrons different rewards for different levels of contribution. My bet is: People who want to support local journalism aren’t interested in adding to their collection of handbags, T-shirts, or embossed pens.
Why would I want a regular email message from you, when I can just remember to visit the website? Or follow you on Twitter or Facebook and follow the links you put there? Of course, you might not want a regular email. And if you don’t, you’re not required to receive it.
But you might find it useful to know that The Beacon is working on a story on a particular day. Maybe that will satisfy your curiosity: Is The Beacon ever going to write about Topic X? More than that, if you see in the email message that we’re working on a story, but it never shows up on The Beacon, it’s totally fair to say: Hey, what ever happened to that story about Topic X?
But how would you pose that question to The Beacon? Easy. Just hit “reply” when that regular email comes. A regular email message connects The Beacon to its readers in a way that makes it easier for them to help The Beacon make its coverage better.
What if I like my privacy, and I don’t want to be added to the “Guiding Lights” list of people or businesses who contribute to The Beacon? If you don’t want to be on the list, all you have to do is say so. But the default will be to list contributors.
Why don’t you have advertising? Shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to maximize revenue? Why should I help you if you won’t do everything you can to help yourself? I think it’s important is to include everyone in the funding model on an equitable basis. In a model funded by advertising, advertisers are included on an unequal basis with everyone else.
Sure, advertisers get something that not everyone else gets. But the thing they get, which is advertising, intrudes on the straightforward access to news and information that the rest of the non-advertiser readership wants.
I think the news industry is broken. I think what broke it is publishers who measure success by how well they connect advertisers with potential customers. I want to measure success by how well I serve the informational needs of readers.
A publication that is funded 100 percent by readers has to respond directly to readers. Some of those readers will be business owners. Their name, and the name of their business if they want, will appear on The Beacon’s list of Guiding lights, just like everyone else.
The wager I’m making is that local journalism supported just by readers like you is a model that can work.