Can you put a value on what we provide?
Does the information we provide each week — information that we have been producing free for the last 20 years — have a value? I am asking that question of all of our readers.
At our inception in June 1999, we were not so unusual in the newspaper world. We decided to give the paper away, our revenue source being the advertisers who wanted to get their message to our readers. That remains a relatively common model in our business, and you can look around the world and around Western North Carolina and find other print media who do the same.
We’re not going to change now and start charging for the print version of the newspaper like most of our competitors, even though our product is at least as good and often better than that produced by our competitors. That just wouldn’t be a smart business decision. Besides, I personally appreciate the fact that some people who want to read about this region likely can’t afford a newspaper subscription or wouldn’t pay via a credit card if our website had a paywall.
So we’ll keep chugging along with what we do. This week we’ll put out 16,000 free print papers around the four-county region we cover, and we’ll log somewhere around 20,000 unique web visitors over the next seven days (give or take a few thousand). Surely there’s some overlap in those numbers, but that’s around 36,000 people a week who interact with our newspaper and our website. The Smoky Mountain News Facebook page, where we post our news stories and other important releases that come our way, is about to hit 30,000 followers. We’re pretty proud of the independent, unique brand that we’ve built over these two decades.
We think the news stories, the opinions, the arts and entertainment news and our outdoors section provide a lot of valuable information to the citizens of our region. The SMN news package, as a whole, is unique. And I think it has value to many, many people who read it on a regular basis.
So we decided to ask for contributions from those who appreciate our content and can afford to pay for it. If you visit our website, you’ll see the pop-up that asks for a contribution. Most will ignore it, some may even find it insulting or think it a money-grubbing attempt to line our pockets.
But here’s the truth — there are thousands of people who live here and thousands online who have been reading our content for 20 years. Over the years countless of readers have told me many times how fortunate our region is to have a paper like SMN. The staff here works extremely hard every day to produce a quality newspaper and top-notch website. Both have won many, many journalism awards over the years. The stories, the print newspaper, the website and the Facebook and Twitter presence require a lot of resources.
So we are making the ask. We aren’t a nonprofit like National Public Radio, but we did take a cue from other free, for-profit news entities who have asked their readers who can afford it to make a contribution to supplement the revenue we get from advertisers. In this age of cultural divisiveness and political upheaval, we believe a moderate voice that adheres to important journalistic principles is much needed in this region. We hope our readers think the same.
We want to produce more in-depth reporting, more long-form journalism, more storytelling that makes a difference. This region is changing fast, as is the news business, and we’ll be here to write about it. If you value our brand of journalism and are a loyal reader, we’d like you to put a value on what we provide.