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Today, I’d like to use this space to tell you about two things happening at The Leader. One of these you’ll see next week; the other will happen early next year.
In next week’s edition of this newspaper, you are going to find a letter I’ve written to readers who receive The Leader on their driveway. That letter (which will be anticlimactic for those who read this column) is going to introduce a program called a “voluntary contribution.” Other newspapers around the country call it a “voluntary subscription.”
I learned about programs like this during my tenure as vice president of a group of weekly newspapers around the Houston area. In all, we had 29 newspapers – from The Woodlands to Clear Lake, Waller County to Cleveland – that were free like The Leader. For years, the newspapers in The Woodlands and Clear Lake have had a voluntary contribution program, and I was always shocked by the response from readers who really did like our newspapers and wanted to support them.
The purpose of this program is two-fold. First, it helps support the day-to-day operation of The Leader. Because we do not charge for subscriptions, our revenue is completely reliant on advertising from our local businesses. Lest you’ve missed the past five years, an economic slump has caused local businesses to struggle, which means they have not spent as much money on advertising as they once did. (Marketing budgets are always the first to go in an economic downturn.)
The second purpose of this program is to use 25 percent of the proceeds as a holiday tip for the men and women who deliver your newspaper. While we rarely receive calls from readers who appreciate getting their newspaper every week, we receive plenty of calls from people when they don’t receive a copy of their Leader. The men and women who deliver the newspaper, along with a group of seven or eight people who come in every Tuesday at 4 a.m. to begin rolling and bagging the newspaper, don’t make a whole lot of money. So, we’d like to use a quarter of any voluntary contributions to give them a holiday gift.
Asking for money is difficult. What makes it more difficult is that we deliver more than 34,000 copies of The Leader each week and we have plenty of people who would just as soon never see the newspaper again. That is true with any newspaper in any city in any state.
When some of our readers get the letter and envelope next week, they are going to use the envelope to send back a letter of reprimand to us. They’ll explain how we’re killing trees and wasting time and clogging sewers. Our carriers work their tails off to deliver the paper, but there are times when a paper doesn’t fly as far as it should and, yes, sometimes they end up on the curb rather than the yard.
There also will be many people who think it is presumptuous to ask for a voluntary contribution. I understand that sentiment, but I promise this will only happen once a year and if you don’t have an interest in supporting the local newspaper, we will understand completely.
Before moving to the next piece of news, let me make sure one thing is understood: We are not asking for a voluntary contribution because I want a pay raise. If we receive a strong showing of support, my intention is to build The Leader into a larger newspaper and website. I believe we’ve made a lot of improvements to the only newspaper that covers your community every week. If there are those who want to support us, my promise is to add to what we’ve started. I’d like to hire another journalist (right now, we have one and a couple of incredible contributors).
If you appreciate The Leader and the work we have done to make it relevant to our community, then we’ll be incredibly grateful for your support. If you can’t afford to support the newspaper but you still enjoy receiving it, this is not going to change our delivery. You will still receive it every week.
• • • • • • •
And that leads to the last piece of news: Beginning the second week of January, The Leader is going to change its publication date. Right now, we send our newspaper to the press on Mondays at 4 p.m. The paper is delivered back to our office early Tuesday mornings and we begin delivery that afternoon.
We will publish the regular Jan. 3 (a Thursday) edition of The Leader, but the following week, we are going to become a weekend publication that delivers to your home Thursdays and Fridays. The goal will be to have every newspaper delivered before dark on Fridays.
Why are we doing this? Well, there are a bunch of reasons, but I’ll name the two that will matter to you most.
First, the strongest newspapers have always been the weekend editions. More people have time to lounge around on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and I believe reading the newspaper today is more of an experience than a daily routine to get news (the web has taken the place of print for that).
Second, most of your shopping is done on Saturdays and Sundays. For our advertisers, they currently have a deadline of Friday to get their ads completed for the following Thursday newspaper – that’s a long time in the business world. With this change in publication date, advertisers will have until Tuesdays to get their information to us, and it will allow them to get their message to you right before you head out to shop.
We’ve made a lot of changes at The Leader in the past six months. Every change has been geared toward making this a better newspaper that serves our readers and advertisers. If you have thoughts or would like to offer other suggestions, as always, feel free to shoot me a note.