For quite a few years now, this publisher has silently stewed over reading in national publications about the crisis of “local news” coverage. The source of irritation is not the subject itself. There is, indeed, a real problem with communities, large or small, losing critically important newspapers of record at a time when news is so vital to our form of government and quality of life. I am grateful for that kind of attention to a big problem.
No, my beef is the term “local news” itself. A case in point: the nonprofit Baltimore Banner has rightly been hailed as a role model in saving “local news.” But “local” in Baltimore’s case means over 1 million people in a metro area. It’s understandable why “local” is defined that way, but it’s hard to compare that major million-dollar enterprise to the mission and scale of something like the Chestertown Spy.
The Spy has always considered itself in the “hyper-local” category, a minimal subset of a major, more significant movement in large cities across the country. Tiny by circumstances and capacity, these primarily rural online publications are typically just squeaking by with modestly paid writers (many of them volunteers) and low budgets.
After almost 14 years, I’ve concluded that the Spy’s “squeaking by” is good enough. With the Chestertown Spy realistically limited by market size and geography, this public education nonprofit will always be a bit broke. And that’s ok.
But it also will be highly dependent on the goodwill of a relatively small number of sponsors and readers who know the importance of local news and its direct impact on their community’s quality of life.
To make the Chestertown Spy work every year, we have to pay those writers and editors who need to be paid for their work. It also means covering the growing costs of a high-traffic web presence, small office spaces for interviews, and other basic business costs. Or roughly some $40,000 a year.
As its publisher, I am proud of that relatively low budget number. The Chestertown Spy was never built with continued growth in mind and therefor potentially divert needed philanthropic support to our sister nonprofits (which we support every day on our website) who have far greater needs.
And the Spy is proud that we are making it work with the active inclusion of covering the arts and culture. While several online nonprofit news organizations are finely covering local government, the Chestertown Spy is a unique model in that it provides equal coverage of local arts and local culture.
In many ways, the goals of the current Chestertown Spy are similar to the purpose of the original Chestertown Spy in 1793. In short, it’s to keep the lights on.
Three times a year, we ask our readers to help “keep the lights on” for the Chestertown Spy. Whether donating $10 or $1,000, we must count on your support to keep this labor of love a vital, relevant part of the greater Chestertown community.
To donate, please go here.