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Editorial: What you need to know about local, nonprofit journalism

in Opinion

By Shereen Siewert, Publisher

Wausau Pilot and Review

I spent the past week in Houston attending the annual Institute for Nonprofit News conference. It was a week of learning how to strengthen and make sustainable this publication, which has become the community’s go-to for local news in Wausau.

Being there, among more than 100 representatives from other nonprofit publications, reminded me — again — about all the reasons Wausau Pilot and Review exists. About why it matters to have fair, fact-based, objective accounts, so that you have reliable information and can act on your constitutional rights.

Wausau Pilot and Review launched in March 2017, as newspapers nationwide were slashing staff, shrinking coverage, eliminating beats and even closing their doors. We launched as a nonprofit because we knew we would have never launched, let alone survived, as a commercial enterprise. A free press is crucial to democracy, but it is not a lucrative endeavor.

Take a look around. Notice how many of our local government bodies now operate with almost no media scrutiny. Then please remember why the Bill of Rights was needed. As the preamble of 1789 explained it: to prevent the abuse of power, to extend the ground of public confidence in the government and to insure its beneficent ends.

Even though the First Amendment identifies the right to a free press, nowhere does it guarantee — much less explain how — it will be paid for.

The nonprofit model means we take a multi-pronged approach to funding our journalism: a combination of grants, advertising dollars and individual donations. We actively seek out grants, but most local philanthropic organizations won’t fund our biggest need — paying journalists. We can and do accept advertising support to help us meet payroll, pay our rent, and satisfy other expenses — but we will never allow our coverage to be influenced by it and have a strong editorial policy that addresses those relationships.

What do you need to know about nonprofit journalism? For starters, nobody is in it for the money. There are no shareholders to satisfy. No media mogul can find a way to milk it dry. If a non-profit generates income, it gets plowed back into more journalism. Serving the public interest is its sole function. Nonprofits use resources efficiently, often with spectacular results.

Non-profit outlets are needed to fill gaps in coverage. We do the work that the media industry can no longer do on its own.

That means we’ll continue to offer the most comprehensive Wausau-area news we possibly can. We’ll continue to monitor actions taken by our local government officials. We’ll issue open records requests, watch meeting video, ask tough questions and hold government officials accountable for the decisions they make.

Wausau Pilot and Review is your newspaper. The big stories take up the bulk of our time and budget, and might be the ones that win awards. But we also know that the “little stories” matter, too, the ones that tell the stories about our community. That means we’ll publish your letters, your press releases, your business announcements, your school’s honor rolls and citizens of the month, birth notices and obituaries. We focus on the greater Wausau area, but we round out our coverage with informative stories from our nonprofit news partners, and statewide coverage with stories we buy from the Associated Press.

And we’ll never have a paywall, ever.

Content on the internet is mostly free, and most readers feel entitled to unrestricted access. It’s a reflexive reaction. I have it, too. Still, we need our readers to help us pay for the work we do.

More and more of you understand this. There’s nothing better for us than to receive an unsolicited online donation, no matter the amount. It’s even better when the donation is a recurring monthly donation. When we get a voluntary subscriber like that, a reader who understands that non-profit journalism needs supporting in this brave new world, we are incredibly thankful.

We’re here so that you can voice your stories, cast your votes, be informed, live freely and well. So, we thank you for your tips, your letters, your comments, your ideas and your support.

Drop us a line anytime at editor@wausaupilotandreview.com. Donate securely online through this link. And for information about pricing for advertising your business or upcoming event, contact Darren at advertising@wausaupilotandreview.com.

Shereen Siewert is editor and publisher of Wausau Pilot and Review. Reach her by calling 715-843-5549 or by emailing editor@wausaupilotandreview.com.

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