It was a hundred years ago that radio stations began to be licensed by the federal government. Only a few frequencies were made available for broadcasting to the public at first, and all the early stations were either set up by hobbyist-experimenters, or by businesses for public-relations purposes.
Soon, though, AT&T put WEAF on the air in New York City, with the idea of seeing if they might be able to make some money with radio, and WEAF actually aired the first radio commercial – a fifteen minute paid discussion of an apartment development. But, in the end, AT&T found that what they called "toll radio" was less likely to be profitable than the leasing of telephone lines to other radio stations for networking purposes, and they sold WEAF to pursue the networking business.
However, they had the right idea. For ninety years, radio has been mostly supported by advertising revenues, as also is television. The model is a very old one – newspapers have printed paid advertisements in this country since papers first appeared, well before the Declaration of Independence. Since newspapers often have more costs of production and distribution than do broadcasters, it has been common also to charge for newspapers, or to sell newspaper subscriptions, to be profitable.THE BEE is somewhat of an outlier. Until 1991 this newspaper – the second oldest neighborhood newspaper in the Portland region – was a paid weekly, with a fairly small distribution, until John Dillin bought it and saved it from its apparent doom. His strategy was to revive it as a free monthly, covering a much larger section of Southeast Portland -- running it by himself, with the help of a local advertising salesperson. In 2000 it was sold by Dillin to the Pamplin Media subsidiary "Community Newspapers, Inc", and at that time your editor, Eric Norberg, replaced Mr. Dillin as its editor and general manager.
So, for thirty years now, THE BEE has been distributed free by mail to 16,500 residences and businesses in Inner Southeast, in "carrier routes" roughly from Powell Boulevard and Foster Road south to the Clackamas County line, and from near S.E. 82nd west to the Willamette River. 3,500 additional issues are also put on free newsstands around the area for those who don't receive it in the mail, and also are sent to paid subscribers. We have an estimated 45,000 readers each and every month.
In the last ten years we have strived to be more and more thorough and complete in covering the news of the communities we serve – usually, most of our stories do not appear anywhere else! If you want to know all that's going on here, generally you have to turn to THE BEE. That is our mission, and our goal.
But, even as we now serve more readers than THE BEE has ever had, ever since its origin back in 1906, it is with considerable irony we are finding that our financial foundation of advertising revenue is no longer what it was, and that's a challenge for us.
Our advertisers still get excellent results, as you might gather from the many advertisers who continue with us year after year; effectiveness is not the problem. The problem is that the ways of advertising are increasing exponentially, and some of the biggest ad competition we face now come from such international behemoths as Facebook and Google – all of which do little if anything in the way of local news, save for what they can borrow from local media.
It's not that we are not online! THE BEE was the first newspaper in our company to set up a website with all its news content on it – that was back in 2001, and it's still there, updated monthly, at www.ReadTheBee.com. However, now our lead website, performing the same function, is hosted by our own company – www.TheBeeNews.com. We and our 24 companion local Oregon newspapers offer online advertising, too – some of the most extensive range of such advertising available from any local Portland ad medium. But our print readership is so strong, that most of our advertisers' response still is driven by our monthly printed issue.
All this, to explain why you lately have begun to hear about "saving local journalism", and you've heard it not only from newspapers, either. In an era in which "news" you find on "social media" is too often rumors and sometimes even propaganda, there has arisen a desire among local residents to be able to depend on news media that check and verify rumors before presenting them, and who are able to sift propaganda from fact.
The need for this, locally, is greater than it ever has been; but with the proliferation of the ways to advertise, the advertising funds available for all local media to underwrite it, even for TV, have been diminishing.
So what are WE doing about it? Our parent company, Pamplin Media, is seeking to strengthen reader funding, in the same way that Oregon Public Broadcasting does – not, in our case, with pledge drives, but with subscriber campaigns. They have placed "paywalls" on many of the 25 newspaper websites, so that only paid subscribers would have full access to the online content of our journalism – with some other benefits added. You have already begun to see ads for this in THE BEE and our other Oregon local newspapers.
In this spirit, your editor in January not only sent his annual check to O.P.B., but also paid for an annual digital subscription to all of our group's newspapers – even though, as an employee, I really don't have to. A number of other BEE readers have done so as well, and we are humbly grateful for all the support.
And, in December, a friend and very successful local businessperson, Sandy Hubbard, stepped up to assist me in THE BEE's advertising efforts, as a freelance salesperson – to the extent that her busy schedule of helping national and international clients as a business consultant allows her the time to do so. She has edited and published magazines in Portland in the past, and many readers may already know her from her roots in the community. She will be making personal calls on local clients, and using her creativity to produce advertising results for them, in THE BEE as well as in our other local newspapers.
Newspaper people really aren't among the area's high earners! We do what we do because we love having you count on us to keep you abreast of everything that goes on here – both good and bad – and usually, with pictures!
But we just cannot keep it up if we can't cover the costs of doing it. That's our paradoxical challenge – in this time of our greatest and most devoted readership ever. We value and appreciate your coming along with us on this adventure!
Thank you for being a BEE reader!
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.