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Readers Sign Up For Memberships & Grumblers Grumble About Paying For News

Thank you everyone who signed up for a paid subscription during the first two weeks of our membership model’s implementation.

We’re off and running. As of today, we’ve met about 40% of February’s goal. Keep ’em coming.

Our goal is to have 200 people sign up for a monthly membership by the end this month. That number of members, multiplied by $5, would cover the most basic operational costs — website hosting, editing services, rent, documents.

It shouldn’t be difficult. Two-hundred is a fraction of how many of you read The Havre Herald every day. On Thursday, 1,400 of you tallied up 2,525 reads on The Herald, somewhere near our average on the days we publish.

Clearly, people read Herald news. And we’re glad. But we need paying partners and at $5 for an all-access subscription, we’re not asking much.

Here is a quick recap of how we got here:

Up until two weeks ago, The Herald was completely free to read since our launch in May 2018. Outlets all over the state have picked up our stories. This week was no exception. On Thursday, Yellowstone Public Radio interviewed me and will soon publish the interview about my story on the Havre Public Schools ransomware attack.

Herald readership has grown and our content has piled up — quadrupling our hosting costs. For us to continue, we need to make more money; hence the membership. We’ve been operating on a shoe-thread budget, one made possible by our advertisers and a handful of longtime contributors.

Now we now need a shoe-string budget to continue.

Two weeks ago we launched a membership model that implements a partial paywall to weave those threads into string. This was a decision we talked about and researched extensively.

We value you being informed. That’s our thing.

But we also need to pay the bills — a point I’m not exactly sure everyone understands or appreciates.

After we implemented our partial paywall, we noticed grumbling and received a message or two indicating irritation about our putting up a paywall on our Courts & Cops stories and the police blotter. While we certainly don’t respond to or get involved in most of the chatter out there, I’d like to address this because I think it merits discussion.

It’s one thing to believe that, for whatever reason, this news organization does not deserve your money. That’s a judgment call, and we respect everyone’s decision to speak with their wallet.

But it’s another thing to complain about, or be in some form of entitled disbelief that we now charge for our labor. Again, we’re not even charging for all the content.

We provide a service. We work. We gather news and publish it. We do this so you don’t have to.

It’s no different than the plumber who comes to your house and uses his tools to unclog your toilet or stop your basement from flooding. He does it so you don’t have to learn to plumb. He plumbs because you don’t.

It’s generally agreed that no one is freely entitled to the plumber’s expertise and tools.

So why murmur when news organizations charge for our work?

If the answer is because other news is free, it’s a weak point that needs context.

All news organizations run on money; it’s just a matter of who pays. Whether it’s advertisers, public funds, philanthropic foundations, readers, or, most likely, a combination, the work is always compensated.

Here at The Herald, we too rely on a combination of members and advertisers. One of the reasons we’re stressing individual subscriptions now is because we believe it could be very reliable and it’s a resource we haven’t tapped into until now.

Over the past two weeks, you learned:

New organizations put in work. We pore over documents, we make phone calls, we show up to where the information is, we conduct interviews, we write, and we publish.

We acknowledge and respect the public’s power to approve or disapprove of The Herald with your wallet. When we launched, we took a chance, not unlike small business owners all over this great country. We said: We think we have something people will value. Let’s take a risk and put that something — news that matters– out there. If the market approves, we will be rewarded. But if the market disapproves, we honor its request and we turn off the lights and go home. As a friend recently said, “If you can’t get paid, you might as well go rock climbing.”

Thank you, again, to those of you who’ve approved with your wallets. You’re the reason we’re still here.

Also, thank you to our advertisers, who’ve supported our mission for nearly all our existence: Kim Cripps at Hi-Line Realty, the awesome folks at Treasure State Title Co., and our wonderful partners at Holland & Bonine. Along with a handful of longtime faithful contributors, this group is the reason we’ve made it this far.

The month is half over and we’re nearly as far into our goal. Let’s keep those subscriptions coming. If you haven’t signed up as a paying subscriber, you can do so here.

Also, look out for other exciting things we have coming soon.

Read More:

Paul Dragu is the editor and publisher of The Havre Herald. Write to Paul at (406) 262-7778
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