Effects of a blank page

Roughly 60 days ago, the team here at the House of News made the bold decision to publish our March 24 edition with a blank front page to send a message on what our community would look like without a locally owned neighborhood news source.

That decision was based on the loss of three key advertisers at the end of 2020 that put the financial future of the paper in serious jeopardy.
That message must have resonated because the response has been almost overwhelmingly positive.

Our circulation staff initially thought our printer, The Columbia Tribune, had made a horrific error. Readers soon began calling the office, alerting us to the supposed error. But internally, we made the decision to go on “radio silence” for 24 hours, from midnight Tuesday to midnight Wednesday, so by design those calls went to our voicemail.

Early Wednesday morning on the 24th, we received an email from the Kansas City Star asking for an interview. KMBC Channel 9 also called and did a piece that eventually found its way to CNN. Then the big guns came out to play. The Washington Post and The Huffington Post both wanted to speak to our team about that blank front page. Then The Seattle Times called, as they were doing a piece on the number of local newsrooms that had closed over the last 20 years. Thursday morning, March 25th, we received a call from David Bauder, a reporter with the Associated Press, an international news wire service. The world was literally knocking on our door and wanted to know who made the decision at this scrappy little weekly in Kansas City to publish a front page devoid of any news. After the Associated Press broke their story, it was picked up by almost 100 media outlets nationwide, including ABC News, US News & World Report and NPR.

Simultaneously, as the story spread further out from Kansas City, the donation button on the front page of our digital edition began to get clicked. A lot. Within eight hours of the story breaking locally, over $800 had been donated. By the end of the weekend, due to our story running in over 80 news outlets nationally, that number climbed to over $4,000. Of that amount, roughly $300 per month are recurring voluntary subscriptions.

Additionally, local businesses such as The Rieger Distillery and The Merc Co+op in Kansas City, Kan., kicked off advertising programs with our paper. Existing advertisers such as the Kansas City Museum recognized the importance of a locally owned community news source and expanded their ad buys with us.

On the banking front, after hearing we had been denied Round 2 PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funding through the Small Business Administration, a Commercial Banking Officer with Landmark National Bank, who lives in the Pendleton Heights neighborhood, contacted us and worked aggressively to help us secure PPP funding when our initial application was rejected through our existing community bank partner.

After securing a verbal commitment from the owner of the larger grocery retailer indicating they would restart their ad program with us after suspending their ads in January, that commitment remains unfulfilled despite our best efforts in good faith to bring that business back on board.

While the future of The Northeast News looks much brighter than it did when Managing Editor Abby Hoover noted in her March 24 column that we were on a roughly 60 day trajectory to closure, the future remains unclear.

One thing that would help secure that future is if more local advertisers and ad agencies supported Community Journalism with extended ad buys instead of looking at locally owned newsrooms like we’re some kind of outdated, outmoded pariah. Note to the 20-something media buyers who think dealing with “Print Media” is beneath their station, name another locally owned news outlet where your client’s paid ad message can potentially reach 60,000 people with a single ad placement. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

To that end, as you’ll hear us say on our quarterly staff roundtable podcast, the best way to support our award winning Community Journalism outlet is to support the advertisers who support our local news efforts. Supporting those advertisers who support our mission to bring you community news you can use will help ensure not only the future of The Northeast News, but also that the Historic Northeast community will continue to have a voice on issues that directly impact our neighborhoods.

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