Exactly 17 years ago, I co-founded Moonshine Ink, a head-first dive into the kind of challenge that brings meaning to life. Today I feel more dedicated to the community newspaper mission than when I first started. Why? I borrow perfect words from a fellow newspaper in Idyllwild, California:
“What is a ‘newspaper’? A newspaper is a community watchdog that publishes the bad with the good. It warns of danger, advises of opportunity, challenges authority, praises accomplishment, investigates irregularity, marvels at art, exposes abuse, celebrates life and publishes its readers’ letters. If a publication doesn’t do all of these things, it may be something else, but it’s not a newspaper.”
Moonshine Ink serves the Truckee/North Tahoe region, a place of unimaginable beauty and inconceivably complex government. In our coverage area, there are two states, five counties (more or less), 19 special districts, and special cases, like the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. It’s a jurisdictional quagmire.
Over the years, we’ve been the only media to “poke the bear” and investigate local government to the point where we really pissed people off. In my mind, this is a good thing. As Winston Churchill said,
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
It is the job of newspapers to stand up to breaches of power. Our democratic government is based on a system of checks and balances; but the press is the only outside entity tasked with being a watchdog. Distressingly, the media landscape in America is in dire shape. In the past decade and a half, nearly one in five newspapers has disappeared. More than 90% of U.S. media is controlled by five conglomerates.
This is a big problem. The consequences are calamitous. I strongly believe that the polarized partisanship ripping our country asunder is due in no small part to the disintegration of the media.
Locally, as we face numerous critical issues — housing, wildfire, employee shortages — our community is on a precipice. Staying informed is vital.
What’s bringing down this cherished right and institution is the lack of a viable business model. The traditional model is to publish news, funded by reader subscriptions and business advertisements. But subscriptions barely cover postage and advertising is a tough sell these days. On the digital side, Google and Facebook dominate the market, raking in two-thirds of all revenue.
Here at Moonshine Ink, we’ve tried many ways to attract advertising. Our prices are lower than most, we have a generous discount program, offer free design, and work feverishly hard to produce a paper that is smartly written and designed. We’ve launched seasonal publications, a puzzle page, and a quarterly Think Local feature. We work to make our content compelling, refreshing, and enlightening, buoyed by unique angles and storytelling techniques. We rebuilt our website twice. We launched the Tiny Porch Concert music video series. In our sales pitches, we appeal to local businesses’ sense of community spirit, emphasizing that their support benefits the whole community as well as grows their business.
We have many faithful advertisers (support these guys and let them know you see their ads!) but try as we might, it’s not enough. Plus more and more businesses and organizations say they can’t afford to advertise, choose other venues (all hail social media!), or don’t need to.
So, we are here to try something different. It’s time to go where I’ve had an inkling we needed to go for years: to our readers.
If we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard, “ I love Moonshine!,” “You should do a story on …,” every email we’ve received with a tip, every time someone approaches us at a local event with story fodder, every call fielded about an important community issue, every meeting we’ve attended or conducted where our presence was requested, every knock on our door heralding another topic to put on our radar …
Last year I met a reader at Truckee’s Art & Soul event. He said, “My wife and I read your paper religiously. You are the soul of Tahoe/Truckee.” These thank-yous mean the world to us.
But they don’t pay the bills.
Over the years, we’ve been blessed to have staff with skill, confidence, sense of humor, resilience, and respect. That said, it’s difficult to retain them at less than top wages in a resort area. Myself, I live frugally and haven’t had a proper vacation since I started. That’s okay with me because I believe being rich in life doesn’t mean having a lot of money. But there is a baseline needed to survive in our mountain hamlet and we’re not reaching it.
We need sustainable careers. We need cushions to survive shoulder seasons. We need to get beyond squeaking by and instead thrive, so we can try new things and cover the community better. In turn, our community benefits from a newspaper staff that understands the area, who lives and works here, who cares about what they do, and can afford to do it. Moreover, after 17 years, I need to take stock of my future while balancing my dedication to this community. It is my sincere wish that Moonshine Ink will continue on for many years, innovating in its vision and traditional in its core reason of being.
We are appealing to you, our dear readers, to save and support Moonshine Ink with Memberships at five levels of support: Sustainer, Guardian, Warrior, Hero, and Angel, depending upon what you feel you can afford to keep the Ink benefiting our community.
We print 11,000 papers. If we can get just a quarter of our readers to contribute $10 a month, we’d be viable.
So, please take stock of your feelings about the value of Moonshine Ink and your ability and willingness to contribute to save and support it for our community. There is a Membership Application below that explains how you can help. Give what you feel comfortable giving.
We will keep track of this ongoing Membership drive online and in print, so you can see how it is progressing. The importance is this: A Member-supported newspaper will serve our community eternally. Should we succeed, we can offer hope to other communities like ours.
Thank you, dear reader, for your attention, and for all your well-wishes and encouragement over the years. Appreciation to all the writers, photographers, and idea-generators who have contributed to Moonshine Ink through the years.
We also thank those businesses that have supported Moonshine Ink with their advertising and continue to do so; we wish there were more of you.
I know I speak for all Moonshiners, present and past, when I say we feel grateful to have been able to give the community a newspaper with verve during these nearly 20 years of hitting streets.
They say journalism is more a calling than a profession. I believe it can and should be both.
If we are able to endure, we will continue to cover the trials, triumphs, and tragedies of our region. That’s our promise to you.
~ Mayumi Elegado, Owner/Publisher
VISIT MOONSHINEINK.COM/CONTRIBUTE TO SIGN UP ONLINE.