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Editorial: time for local news industry, community to renew vows

By Brandi Makuski

Local news companies haven’t been fair to readers lately.

When our staff founded the Stevens Point City Times in 2010, we did it to address a very real—and growing—gap in local news of the daily variety. The changes in news delivery, thanks social media, had changed the demands of readers: instead of buying your daily newspaper, one might check their local newspaper’s website or Facebook page.

Digital news is easy to scale; introduction into multiple markets, even if it means the content is no longer driven by a strong local focus, often means big profits for companies located outside the area.

While we were locally-owned, we had plenty of bumps and bruises, but managed to grow that publication, organically, to become the largest daily news company in Portage County. It became a go-to source for local news. That was a real accomplishment for both sides, considering that nationwide, the news industry is in big trouble; and that locally, news readers have lost a lot of faith in local media, having been largely left in the dark by the very news companies which are supposed to serve them.

In 2014, we sold the City Times to another company, owned by a family out of Green Bay who were well-known in the Wisconsin publishing industry and had recently purchased several Buyer’s Guide outlets across the state, to include Stevens Point. Their idea to combat widespread financial woes in the media industry was a hybrid—part newspaper, part shopper, all for free—with a daily presence online. This model, combined with our staff’s dedicated reporting on local government, community, crime, and sports news, and constant social media presence, was known as the “silver bullet”. We were the example for other markets throughout the company.

But as with most business acquisitions, there were big changes on the way. The voice of our sales division began to trump editorial in the form of “sponsored content”—also referred to as “native advertising”—or via the incredibly annoying pop-up ads on our website. 

And despite [quietly] acquiring the Portage County Gazette in May 2017—ostensibly, a sign of financial success—our company conducted another round of what were called “position eliminations,” in November, which effectively stopped the flow of local news stories at the City Times. The move quickly spawned a steady stream of calls to our personal cell phones from readers, asking, “What the heck is going on?”

 

Thus, the Point/Plover Metro Wire was born. Most of our original journalists are still working with us in some fashion, but a large portion of the community is still very much unaware of the circumstances which led to its creation. Hopefully, our readers will share this editorial with their friends, because we’ve never stopped our hyper-local coverage—it just took a while for folks to find us again.

Starting over has its benefits, the largest of which by far is not being beholden to non-local interests: we maintain control, and move more quickly, at the local level.

But it also comes with obstacles, the largest of which is generation of revenue.

Like it or not, community journalism is a product, a public service. But like any anything else, it costs money to maintain. Free journalism devalues the entire industry. Our reporters often work 70 hours a week and more gathering information, verifying sources, and writing news (and that doesn’t include social media, photography or video).

We write real stories about our local communities—stories you won’t find anywhere else—and have a lot of plans for local growth in the future.

So, what’s our plan? To start out, we’re selling voluntary subscriptions. For $5 a month, or $60 a year, you’re supporting local journalists who funnel that money back into the Stevens Point and Plover communities.

By subscribing, you’re supporting a locally-owned and operated news company with the lone interest of informing the public. Your subscription will also help us create additional jobs—our original intent all along—and implement journalism education in local schools, and sponsor fundraising events for local organizations, along with other plans.

By subscribing, you’re also supporting local nonprofits. Annual subscribers can “purchase” 10 days of free advertising for a local nonprofit organization from our list.

Platinum subscribers—those who purchase an annual subscription at a $250 rate—buy 60 days of advertising for their favorite local nonprofit from our list.

All subscribers receive a weekly newsletter containing all the past week’s news, along with previews of what’s happening the next week, each Sunday morning.

Don’t see your favorite local nonprofit on our list? Let us know by emailing brandi@spmetrowire.com.

It’s a new start for us, and for the community at large: the Metro Wire is the only locally-owned and operated news source in Portage County, and we need your support.

To coin a phrase from Elwood Blues, “We’re putting the band back together.”

Nonprofit List

Big Brothers/Big Sisters

Boys & Girls Club of Portage Co.

Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum

Never Forgotten Honor Flight

Prime Water Anglers

Stevens Point Area Youth Baseball

Stevens Point Fastpitch

United Way of Portage Co.

Youth Area Football 

Don’t see your favorite local nonprofit? Tell us at brandi@spmetrowire.com.

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