Do not be fooled by my accolades! I wingwalked at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp, swam with sharks, AND managed to obtain paperwork declaring me legally sane - all while racking up national acclaim in publishing, editing, writing and photography.

Recently, a reader shared with me her disappointment that The Journal didn’t cover an event. She couldn’t believe that something so important to the community would be dismissed by her community newspaper. In fact, she went on to say that it angered so much that if it weren’t a free paper that she gets anyway, she would likely cancel her subscription over it!

I’d like to share with you my response. All names, dates and locations are fake, of course. This reader meant well, and I am not sharing this now to embarrass, anger or retaliate in any way. I just hope there’s something we can all learn from the exchange.

• • •

Mrs. Jones,

Thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I am very sorry we were unable to live up to your expectations. I certainly agree that The Event was an important one, and I understand how The Journal’s absence from Your Town was perceived.

I am not offering this as an excuse – I agree with you wholeheartedly that The Journal SHOULD have been there – but rather as an explanation, so you can understand that we did not miss The Event out of malice or apathy. In brief, we just didn’t make it.

The Lincoln County Journal covers more than 50,000 people in 17 distinct communities spread over 640 square miles with precisely two hardworking reporters. The truth is, your Event was on the list to be covered, along with at least four other Events that particular day. Sadly, both reporters experienced delays that led to your Event and another not getting covered. Your Event was not “lower” on the priority list. To the contrary, it was as important to us as it was to you. In an effort to be efficient, our reporters lined up where they needed to be based on distance and time, not merely importance. In this particular instance that didn’t work out.

I know what you’re thinking. A county this large, with communities this diverse, truly deserves better coverage, starting with more reporters. How could this newspaper’s owners possibly think they could get away with doing so much with so few?

The Lincoln County Journal has served this community for decades. We provide coverage of news and events (well, most events), school sports, government meetings and general happenings to our neighbors – all at absolutely no charge.

But Mrs. Jones, “no charge” does not mean “free.”

This invaluable community service – free to you – is not actually free. Lakeway Publishers of Missouri spends inordinate amounts of money to ensure this community – and many others like it – continues to enjoy the benefits of robust, relentlessly local journalism, even as other publishing companies across the nation are getting out of the business. Reporters to cover the events, graphic artists to produce the pages, delivery drivers, printers – even the folks who supply paper and ink – all have to eat and pay mortgages. The electric company wants its cut. Same with water, sewer, the lawn guys (have you seen our lawn?), telephone, internet… the list goes on.

The truth, Mrs. Jones, is that your free newspaper costs tens of thousands of dollars – every month.

We don’t have more reporters for one simple reason: we can’t afford them.

Our costs have increased exponentially over the past few years. In the spirit of community service, our advertising rates have not. Even as our community has grown, and with it our responsibility to it, The Journal has held a line against raising prices on advertisers – and especially on imposing costs on our readers.

Instead, we’ve offset cost increases with budget cuts. A snip here, a trim there. Fewer pages. Fewer people. And, now, less coverage. Ironically, less service to the community.

Mrs. Jones, I am truly sorry The Journal failed to meet your expectations. We tried – we continue to try every day. I certainly hope to do better next time. And I hope you’ll give us another chance.

• • •

While wrestling with whether to share this note with you, I showed it with a friend who is also a newspaper publisher. Struggling with economic realities of his own, he suggested that I remind Mrs. Jones that communities only get the newspaper they are willing to pay for. “If your advertisers won’t support three reporters, they don’t get three reporters!” he exclaimed. “Why should your company pay for something if the community won’t?”

To be fair, my friend has a point. The Journal’s resources are limited only by how much or how little advertiser support it receives. The kind of journalism this county deserves is limited only by how much its business community is willing to support.

Personally, I think it’s a square deal. Advertisers who ensure their community’s newspaper in return get to share their message with every single reader they support. In a county of 50,000+, that’s a tremendous number of potential customers to impress for relatively few dollars.

Friends, I want The Lincoln County Journal to support and grow with this community for a long time to come. I want The Journal to provide you with the kind of coverage our community deserves. I want to do this without relying solely on the business community. And I want to do it without charging you for a subscription.

But I would ask for your help.

In the coming weeks, we will place a business-reply envelope in The Journal, asking for your voluntary contribution to support your community newspaper. The Journal is your newspaper. I hope you will consider helping keep it going strong.

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