Nothing Magical about Running a Newspaper

Nothing Magical about Running a Newspaper

Business owners, take note. There’s something magical going on in Alameda. It’s a place where you just send in a notice of your event and, for free, it appears 23,500 times in front of people all over town. Then it appears online, too. People read about the event in print and see it on their computers and their Smartphones. And after they’ve read about it, they stop by, spend their money, and you get to keep it all.

Because, you see, the people who put these 23,500 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 bill, no printing or delivery costs and no salaries. They all work for free. 

And if they dare ask for money, well, you see, that simply goes against the rules — rules that say they have to run the stories that make you money, but they can’t ask you for any of your money. How dare they! After all, it doesn’t cost them anything at all to dispense their magic.

The above fantasy is all too prevalent in the business world. We at the Alameda Sun are also business owners. We, too, have bills to pay. We have expenses just like every other business owner in town. We are happy to support the nonprofits in town. For the last 15 years we have published stories and advertised events without asking for a dime. 

However, the Sun needs support from the for-profit businesses to keep our doors open. If for-profit businesses want the Sun to support them with stories or notices about their money-making events, the Sun would like to ask for some support in return. There are some in town who understand this, and others who don’t. Some think we are that magical machine I described in the first two paragraphs. We are not. We are not able, 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 owner. 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 no magic here. Like every business in Alameda, the newspaper has expenses. 

There is a difference between what the Sun will run for free and what we will not run for free. My co-publisher, Eric J. Kos, and I run the “sales-pitch” test. If what the for-profit business is asking us to run is a money-making venture solely for that business, then we have a “sales pitch” on our hands. This type of writing is called “advertorial” and the rules of journalism do not apply. We have the right to contact the business owner and make a “sales pitch” in return. 

As publishers, we go a long way to help make advertising in our newspaper affordable. We have a special rate for nonprofits and offer members of the Downtown Alameda Business Association, the Greater Alameda Business Association and the West Alameda Business Association not only discounts on their ads, but free space in our newspaper. 

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 am currently president of the Alameda Museum. We are both historians with a love for Alameda history. We spend hours each year preparing for and giving free history walks and talks. 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 Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to visit our office to see our business first hand. We also return our money to the community. Eric and I recently donated $1,000 to Alameda Backyard Growers to help begin a tree-planting program.

The Alameda Sun is something that many consider a vanishing breed: a local independent newspaper. We have survived for almost 15 years thanks, in large part, to our advertisers. We trust that the members of the business community understand that we are happy to help them, but we need their help in return. 

Part of the act of journalism is knowing when to say “no” to the publishing of a story. Recognizing the difference between advertising copy meant to benefit one local merchant and new information that has broad impact on many local readers is also a key part of this business. 

It’s simple. If you want something guaranteed to appear in the Alameda Sun exactly according to your specifications, pay for it. Otherwise we will decide how, when and whether to run it.