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Subscriptions are the only way to keep the Texarkana Gazette's news alive in the twin cities

by James Bright | May 16, 2023 at 10:55 a.m.

There are a lot of subscription services out there. Like a whole lot.

For a long time, periodicals and magazines cornered the market in this space. Then there was cable, mailers and even jelly of the month. The digital age changed the paradigm bringing a whole host of new companies offering monthly rates. Netflix, Hulu, Microsoft: all have a subscription service and generally speaking, users accept them as necessary.

Yet, the most common complaint we receive is "Why do I have to pay to access the Gazette's content?" And the answer is simple. It's the same reason we've sold subscriptions to our content for almost 150 years. We need to keep our doors open. Today, more than any other time in our history our audience is paramount to our success, so to answer this question I have broken down why paid subscriptions are necessary and why we have to ask our readers to support us financially.

Let's start with advertising. Print advertising has dwindled since 2006 every year across the newspaper industry. This is no secret and the Gazette is in no way immune to this trend, but 10 years ago, print advertising was still our bread and butter and our most critical revenue stream. That's not the case anymore. Subscriber revenue has taken its place. Now, we still offer a multitude of print solutions and are fully committed to those products and the success of business that invest in them.

That being said I've heard the owner of our parent company, WEHCO Media, say numerous times companies like Google and Facebook built a better mouse trap. And that's true. Digital advertising is surgical. Print advertising is a broadsword. A customer who wants to change their image should buy an ad in print, and one who wants to sell their latest stock should buy targeted digital ads. The latter of these two is a much more common request. The Gazette offers both of these marketing solutions, but to date we have not found the success in digital advertising as we did 10 years ago in print. This leads us to focus our efforts on providing the best, local content we can, which is something no one else can do like us in Texarkana thank to our editorial department.

Other communities aren't blessed with a newspaper company still committed to journalism first. I came to Texarkana from Oklahoma in 2019. During my time in the Sooner state, I worked for a newspaper company dedicated to one thing, profit. This meant they stripped their papers to the bone. A community with a Power 5 football program, which was covered by this company, had a newsroom of eight. It's unsustainable.

That is not how we operate at the Gazette. We have a newsroom of 12, plus a host of contractors. Our goal is to serve our readers first and make a profit second. We have more journalists in our newsroom than metro papers 60 miles south of the twin cities. And the content we produce is original. Conceptualized, reported and written by people who live in and around the Texarkana community. We are proud to office in downtown Texarkana and employ over 30 community members across all our departments. And we would like to grow. Continue to add journalists and cover more facets of our community. There's certainly room for that, but we can't do it for free.

Another common criticism we face is "I can read this for free somewhere else," and sometimes, that's true. But, most of the time that free story originated at the Gazette. Local blogs, Facebook pages and broadcast entities don't have the resources or breadth of experience we do to track down a story and report it. Sure, the police chase, car wreck or drug bust may be reported across multiple outlets. And oftentimes we place those stories in front of our meter. But the feature on the local restaurant manager helping musicians get their first gig doesn't exist without us. The countless articles about fish falling from the sky originated with us. The daily recap of a huge murder trial from start to finish is never reported without our team and the endless sea of city, council and school board meetings go unobserved without Gazette reporters. Readers may be able to find augmentations of our content the day after we publish for free, but if we were to stop publishing, that content wouldn't exist at all. And that more than anything else is our sales proposition. We ask our audience to pay so we can cover Texarkana, because nobody else can the way we can, and it is a privilege to do so.

Finally, I want to touch on the community. Not the citizens of Texarkana, but the people who subscribe and read the paper both in print and digitally. I attended a conference in October and was hit with a pretty hard truth: newspapers are niche products.

It was a strange reality check, but it's true. Our subscribers are civically engaged readers who are interested in their city and how to improve it. Our community is all interested in Texarkana, but not everyone will want to know all the ins and outs of local government or the goings on of a district 20 miles from their house.

And that's OK.

But it doesn't change our business model. We still need audience revenue to generate content our community is interested in, whether that is one story a month or 100. We simply cannot survive unless we charge for our news.

The Gazette will turn 150 in two years. That's a staggering number. It's hard to fathom.

And for 140 of those years, the company was able to operate without a lot of changes on a day-to-day basis, but that just isn't the reality any more. There was a time when the Gazette had 30,000 print subscribers. That's a massive operation for a community this size. That number has dwindled, but last month we had over 200,000 unique visitors to our site, which means the appetite for local news is stronger than it's ever been. It's heartening, but we have to charge for the content our readers clearly want. If we don't, there will be no one left to report it.

Print Headline: Without subscribers there would be no Texarkana Gazette


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