The changes brought to newspapers by the digital revolution and readers’ shifting habits are so well known these days that they’re almost cliche.
Truth is, the changes have hit newspaper revenue far harder than they have hit readership.
Yes, print readership is down, but digital readership on desktop computers, tablets and smartphones is way, way up. Yet turning our growing legions of digital readers into a revenue stream has proved tricky.
And it is revenue, dear readers, that pays for the reporters, photographers and editors who bring you journalism — in print and online.
All of which is preamble for this: We aggressively are looking for new approaches to help pay for the journalism we know you want.
With ArtsGreensboro, a nonprofit that promotes and supports local arts organizations, I’ve got one exciting new approach to introduce today. (See the companion column by Tom Philion, president and CEO of ArtsGreensboro.)
The News & Record long has wanted to provide more arts coverage, but in these leaner times, we needed a way to pay for that coverage.
ArtsGreensboro, too, wanted more arts coverage. Now, it has stepped up to help underwrite expanded coverage.
Our collaboration grew out of conversations late last fall between the News & Record and ArtsGreensboro. These conversations germinated into an idea, which by mid-May led to our conclusion of a written agreement.
Ours is a friendly collaboration, but it involves money and specific performance expectations, so we thought it best to invite our lawyers to make it formal.
In our agreement, the News & Record has committed to publishing at least 70 stories about local arts topics during the next year. That’s 70 more stories than we would have published without this agreement.
About half of these stories will be reviews of arts events. The remainder will be articles about arts institutions, people in the arts, upcoming events and the like.
The News & Record also has committed to recruiting and assigning freelance arts writers and to handling all tasks related to preparing their articles and reviews for publication.
ArtsGreensboro has committed to paying the News & Record a specific sum, on a prescribed timetable, during the next year to underwrite the cost of this expanded coverage.
Additionally, ArtsGreensboro has agreed to our request that no taxpayer money be used to underwrite this venture.
The group also agreed without reservation (and I quote from the agreement) that the “News & Record shall have complete independence and discretion with respect to the content, length, coverage and publication of the expanded arts coverage provided pursuant to this Agreement, including without limitation selecting writers, writing and editing arts content, scheduling publication times, and selecting what and when arts events and organizations will be reviewed and by whom.
“ArtsGreensboro shall in no event have any control over the content, coverage, or publication of the expanded arts coverage provided pursuant to this Agreement, nor shall ArtsGreensboro have the right to preview any coverage before its publication.”
Such thick language, exactly what you get when you ask lawyers to put something in writing. But it does capture what the News & Record and ArtsGreensboro agreed to on a handshake in our early discussions.
ArtsGreensboro wanted more arts coverage. We wanted to retain the independence that is our journalistic bedrock, the same independence that ensures you can distinguish between news and paid advertising.
With our expanded arts coverage, that independence includes the likelihood of an occasional review that points out a sour note or weak performance. We specifically discussed this topic with ArtsGreensboro before concluding the agreement, and it was an easy sell. They understood why this is important to us.
Finally, we will practice transparency. Today’s column and the companion column from ArtsGreensboro ensure as much.
Also, every story or review underwritten by ArtsGreensboro will appear with this note: “This News & Record arts coverage is supported by contributions to ArtsGreensboro’s Arts & Theatre Media Fund.”
Even so, this is new territory for the News & Record, and frankly, for most newspapers. It’s more common in public radio, where foundations long have underwritten journalism about topics such as education, health or the arts.
In the past, we newspaper journalists would have said “no way” to such an arrangement, and we probably would have been a tad holier-than-thou about it. I can hear the echoes even now: Sniff, sniff, nose in the air ... “We don’t partner.”
It’s a new era, and with our new partner, ArtsGreensboro, we’re being appropriately creative — while also preserving the important values that gird journalism.
To ArtsGreensboro, thank you.
To you, our readers: Enjoy the expanded coverage.