Pulling together for local media

There’s not much in common between Maine’s resident horror boss, author Stephen King, and tidy Arkansas restaurant Skylark Cafe.

But both unknowingly became partners recently in a growing enterprise:

Saving local media.

In the past couple of months, both have been affected by a threat of lost local media in their towns, and both rose to the occasion. The media in their towns are faced with the same economic retraction that all media face, including us here at The Vindy. We pulled back some services just as others have pulled back to try to make current services meet current revenues.

We do this while Facebook and Google carve deeper and deeper footings into our lives and our pocketbooks – having earned a combined $169 billion in advertising in 2018. Advertising drives most media. Those two companies tower over all other media. When John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil towered over the American marketplace, lawmakers intervened. Times have changed.

The trickle effect has been events such as what happened in King’s Maine and Skylark’s Arkansas.

The Portland Press Herald in Maine had a costly feature – reviews of books written by Maine authors – that it stopped producing earlier this year. The newspaper did keep its national book reviews, which it had been offering. They are more affordable as they are wrapped in with news, sports and other services – just like ours.

But in the Land of King, authoring is a proud profession, and the locals are prideful like any town. They wanted to know as much about their books as the books of the rest of the world.

When the paper ceased the local books feature, King went to his Twitter account and his 5 million followers:

“The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will no longer publish local, freelance-written reviews of books about Maine, set in Maine, or written by Maine authors. Retweet this if you’re from Maine (or even if you’re not). Tell the paper DON’T DO THIS.”

To 5 million people who engage in themes King writes about, that can cause anxious moments. But the newspaper turned the campaign around. It nudged King on Twitter to encourage his followers to invest in subscriptions to save the book reviews. One hundred subscriptions, and the reviews stay, they offered.

King, while poking them for possible blackmail, obliged. The end result from the weekend campaign was 200 new subscribers.

In kind, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance took the actions a step further and raised enough advertising support to further fund the book reviews.

In Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was set to pull back publication of its Arkansas Life culture magazine, which had a loyal following. Only 3,500 people paid the $10 annual fee while another 20,000 enjoyed the magazine for free. It sounds almost like a Netflix subscription model.

A campaign was mounted to gain more subscribers.

Skylark Cafe’s participation in the effort, and its reasons why, sum up the significance of investing in local journalism.

The cafe offered people a free lunch if they brought in their renewed subscription bill. Their words on why they did it:

“We cannot shy away from the fact that Arkansas Life has had a great part in keeping us around for this long.

“They have boosted our traffic during the cold, most dreaded months of winter, and boosted our morale during the same.

“The effect is worth pausing to think about as you consider the impact they have made on our small business, and we are just one of the hundreds (probably thousands) of Arkansans that they have impacted in the exact same way.

“I’m still convinced of the importance of the printed word, and my goodness, you should see our roast beef sandwich on a full page print.”

This Facebook plea was liked 451 times and shared by 364 people; pretty good numbers.

Better numbers came for the campaign overall.

More than 1,000 new subscriptions came in at $20 annually, and the product was saved.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.