When I launched Old Mission Gazette in 2015, I intended to run this modern online newspaper the traditional way of generating revenue with advertising. I’ve been making a living in the newspaper/magazine publishing industry for going on 40 years, so it just seemed like the natural way to do it.
It took me a couple of years to get the Gazette to a point where I felt like it was good enough to start pitching it to advertisers. I wanted to have a good number of stories published, build up my readership and social media channels, and make sure things were in good enough shape to honor my advertising partners.
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Being My Own Cheerleader
I had to talk myself through some emotional hurdles when I started thinking about adding advertisers to the Gazette. I was no longer just fulfilling my passion by publishing an online newspaper about the Old Mission Peninsula – something I’d been planning since I was eight years old, by the way. Now I was responsible for making sure that every single story was the best it could possibly be, with as much information as I could offer, all with pinpoint accuracy.
I’m a stickler for details anyway, but when you’re publishing historical stories about the Old Mission Peninsula, sometimes you’re relying on generations-old information. You’ll notice that my OMP History stories generally include this line: “If I’ve got anything wrong here, please let me know!” Between Tim’s and my families (Boursaws and Johnsons) and the OMP community at large, we can usually offer a fair amount of accuracy.
Those Fabulous Advertisers
As it turns out, I had advertisers approaching me before I even got to the point of feeling like the Gazette was “good enough” to add advertisers. Ginny Coulter of Old Mission Flowers and Ted Schweitzer of Real Estate One were the first to contact me, and both have stuck with me since the beginning.
Others followed, including Peninsula Community Library as they started the process of building the new library (which recently opened to the public), Secret Garden at Brys Estate, Chateau Chantal, Neahtawanta Inn, OMP United Methodist Church, Bay View Insurance Agency, Cory Holman of Holman’s Pumpkin Patch, Cindy Anderson of Lake Homes Realty, Brit Eaton or Good Eaton Gourmet, Sue Feiger of Walt’s Old Barn, and Corey Phelps of Front Street Mortgage, among others.
These are all great business owners that I’ve either known since I was a wee lass or have come to know as friends in recent years. It’s a two-way street when it comes to partnering with advertisers. I want to know they’re reputable before I promote them on the Gazette and our social media channels.
I Am Not a Salesperson
Still, managing advertisers and creating ads is somewhat time-consuming, and it’s easy to see why publications have entire staffs and departments devoted to it. And truth be told, I’m not very good at it. Oh, I love my advertisers and love promoting their businesses, but I’m not a natural-born salesperson.
I naturally gravitate towards writing, editing and photography. I can do those things all the live long day. But I have to talk myself into pitching the Gazette to new advertisers, and even though our numbers are good (14,000 email subscribers, 3 million pageviews monthly, thriving communities on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), most of the cold emails I send out never get a response, even from people I know. And I don’t have an entire staff devoted to this task, plus I have all those stories to write and post on the Gazette every day.
I sometimes wonder if social media has given people a way to advertise their own businesses, so paying someone else to spread the word is going by the wayside.
What this all boils down to is that the revenue I generate from advertisers isn’t enough to keep things afloat around here. Enter OMPstore.com, the online store my husband Tim and I started a couple of years ago. On the store, we sell OMP-focused t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, mugs, photos and other gear. And while this falls more into my wheelhouse than selling ads (I love creating things), there’s still the time factor that pulls me away from writing Gazette stories.
If I could clone myself and have one Jane running the Gazette and one Jane running the store, that would be the best of both worlds. There just never seems to be enough time to do both, although I keep trying.
I’ve been re-working the store and getting ready to re-launch it with more products and lower prices. I’ve got the M37 gear ready to go, so feel free to hop over and buy something from that collection (I’ll be adding a couple more things hopefully by tomorrow). But for everything else in the store, give me a week or so to revise things. I’m working on some new designs and 2020 Old Mission Calendars (Dogs of OMP!), but again, time is always a factor. And there are all those Gazette stories to write. But one upcoming story will be about re-launching the store as we head into the holiday season.
I also launched Old Mission Photos earlier this year, but haven’t had a lot of time (!) to devote to it. But there are all sorts of photos and photo items available for sale over there. Hopefully, I’ll figure out how to carve out some time for that venture before the end of time. Lots of ideas. Not a lot of time.
About That Reader-Supported Idea
Ok, Jane, but what about the reader-supported newspaper idea that’s in the title of this story? Yeah, let’s talk about that. A couple of years ago, people started asking what they could do to help support the Gazette, especially if they didn’t want to run an ad or buy anything. (Let’s face it – most of us are trying to downsize, not buy more stuff. I can relate to that.) And would I accept donations?
It took me a LONG time to get here (Lord knows you’ve supported us many times over the years), but I’ve finally gotten to a point where I feel like the Gazette is a viable enough news site to 1) run ads; and 2) accept donations. I really had a hard time with the donations idea, but a friend recently said to me, “You know, it’s not charity. You’re providing a good service to the Old Mission community, and people want to support that.”
Ok, message received. For a while I had a tiny donation link at the very top of the Gazette website. A person had to really search for it with a magnifying glass to find it. But after more people started asking about donating to the Gazette, I made the link more visible, added a few display ads about donations, and included a bit of text at the bottom of every story. I got the idea for that after I stumbled across it on The Guardian UK. If a big newspaper like that could do it, I guess I’d give it a whirl, too.
Benefits of a Reader-Supported Newspaper
So, what exactly are the benefits of being a reader-supported newspaper? Let’s talk about that…
It frees up my time to focus on the reason I started the Gazette in the first place. That is, to publish Old Mission Peninsula news, photos, events, history and lots more. I wake up excited to do that every day, and I hope it shows through in the stories you read here.
It makes me more accountable to my readers. If people are donating financially to help support the Gazette, I’d better be doing my best work here! And as a friend said to me recently, it also gives readers a vested interested in the Gazette. They get something out of it and WANT to see it do well.
It lets me pick and choose Gazette advertisers. Look, not every business is a good fit for the Gazette (and vice-versa). So the financial support we get through donations lets me be a little more selective, and not just jump wildly at every advertiser who approaches me.
Readers don’t have to sift through a lot of ads. I think most of us understand that advertising is a part of our lives, but I never wanted to have a newspaper that was mostly ads with a fluff story here and there. That’s not what the Gazette is about. And speaking of that…
It lets me publish a truly community newspaper. By that, I mean that I have the option of promoting things that are dear to my heart even if they’re not paying advertisers. (Although my paid advertisers, of course, get the primo spots on the website and email newsletter, along with stories about them and social media promos).
There are other local newspapers and magazines where every single thing that’s published is paid for one way or another. If you want to send in a story you’ve written, that’s going to cost you $500. I do not want the Gazette to be that kind of publication. I get why the others do it; they’re generating revenue in a publishing industry that’s getting tough and tougher with each passing year. But also, that’s ridiculous.
Here’s an example: Having grown up on a cherry farm on the OMP, the farming community has a special place in my heart, and I love promoting things like our “OMP Farm Stand Pick of the Week” features. If you’ve been reading the Gazette for a while, you’ve figured out that we are not a tourist magazine touting the “Top 5 OMP Beaches” or “Best Places to Drink Wine While Viewing the Sunset.”
Tim and I grew up in farm families on the OMP. We raised our kids here. We live here, and we work here. We go to township meetings and belong to various groups. We write stories that mean something to us, and hopefully, they mean something to everyone else who lives and works here.
That’s not to say that we don’t post a beach or winery photo. We do. Lots of them. But more often than not, it’s a story about the Haserot Beach boat launch or why the wineries cover their vines each fall.
Can a Reader-Supported Newspaper Work?
Can this work? Can we keep Old Mission Gazette going via revenue generated through donations, along with advertising and store sales? Well, the jury’s still out on that. But I hope so. Because my whole life has been leading to me writing and publishing Old Mission Gazette. And I hope you find meaning in it, too.
Thank you to everyone who helps to support the Gazette financially, by sending in story ideas and photos, or by telling us you like it and to keep going. We appreciate all of it, and we love our OMP community.
(And if anyone has legal advice about whether we should become a nonprofit, email us at [email protected] or call Tim at 231 342-0209.)