What it Really Takes to Run a Newspaper
Business owners and organizations, take note. There are some myths going around in Alameda about the Alameda Sun. That it’s the place where anyone from anywhere can just send in notices of events, and — at no cost to anyone — people all over town read about them. The Sun somehow gets 24,000 copies of these free announcements, or even stories — some with color photographs — to magically arrive all over town. And it doesn’t cost anything.
Then these announcements and stories appear online for 7,000 visitors read to see on their computers and their Smartphones. And because they’ve read about these happenings, readers shop at the businesses and spend their money to buy tickets to events like garden tours. Some of these free announcements and stories are time-sensitive. The Sun staff is expected to drop everything to make sure that these free items get in the paper “in a timely manner.”
And it doesn’t cost anything.
Because, you see, the people who put these 24,000 pieces of magic out week after week work for free. They also have this wonderful online presence that doesn’t cost them a dime. They don’t have any bills to pay — no rent, no light bills, no printing or delivery costs and no salaries. The Sun simply works for free. It must be magic.
The above fantasy is all too prevalent in Alameda among businesses, non-profits, churches and service clubs. And if the Sun dares ask for money, well, that simply goes against the rules. You know, rules that say that newspapers simply run the stories that make these organizations money for free. What do you mean that the folks at the Sun have asked these organizations to buy advertising? How dare they?
My partner, Eric J. Kos and I are business owners, proprietors of the Alameda Sun. We have bills to pay. We have expenses just like every business, nonprofit and church in town.
We are happy to support worthy causes. For the last 18 years we have published stories and advertised many events without asking for a dime in return. The Sun has rules that level the playing field. We run these the only fair way we can: first-in, first-on-the-page. No jumping ahead because an event is timely or the organization needs time to sell tickets or notify students of their scholarships.
Please understand that the Sun needs advertising support to keep it doors open. Some in town understand this, others don’t. Some think we are that magical machine I described in the first part of this story. We are not. We cannot afford to stay in business without our advertisers.
Business owners frequently call or email the Sun with requests to write stories without compensation about events that earn profits for the business owners. They also want the Sun to publish their money-making events in the calendar listings without a thought that it costs the paper money to do this.
There is a difference between what the Sun will run for free and what we will not run for free. Sometimes Eric, the staff and I run the “sales-pitch” test. If the for-profit or non-profit business is asking us to run is a money-making venture, then we have a “sales pitch” on our hands.
This type of newspaper copy is called “advertorial” and the rules of “editorial” journalism do not apply. The Sun has the right to contact the business owner or non-profit and make a “sales pitch” in return. This pitch includes asking organizations to purchase ad space to thank donors to events.
The Sun will run thank-you letters that involve the names of a limited number of donors. If an event has a significant number of business sponsors and donors organizers would like to list, then we ask that they budget some of their money to thank those donors in an ad. We would like to thank our longtime partners, the Commuters Golf Tournament, who set an excellent example for other organizations by purchasing a half page to thank their sponsors each year.
As publishers, Eric and I go a long way to help make advertising in our newspaper affordable. We have special rates for nonprofits and offer members of all the local business associations not only discounts on their ads, but free advertorial space to promote their efforts and events.
We both strongly believe in community service. Eric served as president of the Greater Alameda Business Association for four years and on the boards of Rhythmix Cultural Works and the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. I served for three years as president of the Alameda Museum; six years on its board.
We are both historians with a love for Alameda history. We spend hours each year preparing for and giving free history walks and talks for the Alameda Museum and the City of Alameda’s “Alameda Walks” program. Last Thursday evening Dennis kicked off the museum’s lecture series with a history talk. Eric and I will be giving six history walks this year for Alameda Walks.
We have published a book about the history of Alameda and have a second one in the works about Bay Farm.
We visit school groups to tell them about the newspaper business. We invite these groups along with the Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to visit our office to see our business first hand. We offer schools and other organizations opportunities to send students to work for us as interns. We currently have a wonderful intern from the Nea Community Learning Center.
In addition to a great deal of our time, we also return our money to the community. In 2018 we donated more than $16,000 to nonprofits, largely by offering free ad space as part of an arrangement to help these organizations better afford to broaden their advertising. Eric and I recently donated $500 to Alameda Backyard Growers to continue our joint tree-planting program, Project Tree. In 2016 we donated $1,000 to help start the project.
The Alameda Sun is something that many consider a vanishing breed: a local independent newspaper. We have survived for almost 19 years thanks, in large part, to our advertisers. We trust that the members of the business and nonprofit community understand that we are happy to help them, but we need their help in return.
Over the years, Eric and I have learned when to say “no” to the publishing items. These include stories or announcements meant to benefit for-profit merchants or meant to sell extra tickets to events.
It’s simple. If any organization—including for-profit or nonprofit businesses and service clubs — want a guarantee that an item or story will to appear in the Sun, that organization must pay for that privilege. If any organization wants an item or story placed in the Sun in a timely manner so the Sun’s readers have time to respond or have more time to buy tickets to events, that organization must pay for that privilege.
Staff at the Alameda Sun alone will decide how, when and whether to run any announcement that any organization does not pay for.