The Greylock Glass to shut down December 31.
Monday, December 11, 2017
Dear Greylock Nation,
This week, I read another tragic article about another local news organization, the Bklyner, that faces near certain closure at the end of this month. After ten years of serving their community, they are desperate for that very community to support them. I realized that the time has come to face an agonizing fact:
I can’t do this anymore.
Bklyner publisher Liena Zagare has spent ten years publishing tens of thousands of articles, winning journalism awards, informing, protecting, and advocating for the 11 neighborhoods she serves. She’s cut corners, she’s cut staff, and I guarantee you that she’s cut her sleep-time, just to try to keep her publication alive. Zagare has appealed for help over and over to the thousands of people who use her site, for free, every day. Now she’s at wit’s end, and is facing the tough decision about whether or not to keep the news outlet alive. She’s run the numbers and come up with a very specific one—3,230. That’s the number of subscribers, at $5/month, that the publisher needs to attain to keep the lights on at Bklyner. She’s just launched one last Hail Mary subscriber drive to come up with the money to avoid shutting everything down. If her community fails her, the news organization she’s put her sweat and heart and soul into for a decade will cease all operations on December 31. Period.
It all boils down to the truth that, like the Bklyner’s management, I’ve been running the Greylock Glass like a community service organization for just shy of three years. I have repeatedly asked the Grey audience of roughly 3,000 people to contribute $1 per month each to help pay for the content they use. Despite a handful of generous one-time donations, a few dedicated monthly donors, and few awesome advertisers, my increasingly urgent appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
I’m not going to continue pouring dozens of hours a week, thousands of dollars, and my soul into a news organization so that consumers can download 50,000 shows and read tens of thousands of pages without contributing. There are no grants supporting this work. No angel investor. If I have an inheritance from a long lost wealthy uncle somewhere, I wish someone would let me know about it. But I am going to take a hint from Bklyner and make a similar announcement:
If the Greylock Glass gets 500 or more paid subscribers at $5 per month via Patreon.com/greylockglass by December 31st, 2017, we will continue publishing as we have. That’s really not an ambitious goal, either, given how many people consume our content every week.
If we do not reach that goal, if we fall shy even by one subscriber, we will cease operations (except for four committed upcoming episodes of TLC), reorganize, redesign, and reboot in 2018 as a solidly revenue-focused media company. You’ll still love it. Maybe love it even more. But it won’t be free anymore.
I’ve checked out the comments on Bklyner’s site, and, while the publication clearly has some die-hard fans (it’s Brooklyn, after all) I give it at best about a 50/50 chance of survival. Why so pessimistic? Because a colleague at a similar site in Virginia just announced this week that, although some of the online news site would still be free, 2018 would see a tiered content system where some premium articles would be available only to paid subscribers. Within hours of the announcement, a full ONE PERCENT of his newsletter audience unsubscribed, their wrath piqued at being told that they had to start paying for journalism they’d been enjoying for free. It didn’t even matter that much of the site would still be free.
I am also less than optimistic about the Bklyner’s chances because of my own experience. Almost none of the tens of thousands of visitors who have download the thousands of hours of podcasts or viewed tens of thousands of pages at the Greylock Glass have contributed a dime, despite my increasingly urgent requests for support.
Maybe a dozen people over the last three years have shown that they “get it.” This “local-media-is-worth-supporting thing.” I’m grateful to the handful of generous souls who’ve paid their share forward—four or five with contributions between $5 and $50; others with favors or services or some other assistance that has helped me out in various ways. Some of the most encouraging support recently has been the arrival of a few advertisers here and there who understand that another healthy news organization in the area means another way to get their messages out today and tomorrow and in the years down the road.
All told, the sum has maybe been enough to pay for the web hosting, which, again, I’m grateful for. The irony of the popularity of this podcast network surfaced back in the Spring when my web host contacted me to tell me that, due to the increase in traffic to the website, I needed either to upgrade to a costlier hosting plan or find the Greylock Glass another place to live. They’re a great host. I upgraded. The kicker? I’ve just started getting similar grumblings from them because I seem to be doing something right, and site visitors are straining the capacity of the hosting plan once again.
The 50, 60, and more hours I spend a week producing episodes, doing marketing, keeping up with maintenance? I don’t mind that. I knew that was in the job description. I laugh (a little hysterically, maybe) when people who are actually in the media check out the Greylock Glass and ask me how many employees I have. I started this new media venture to be a service to a community that has seen it’s journalism choices shrink considerably in the last decade. I was under no illusions—I knew it would be a long row to hoe, and I knew I wasn’t going to get rich doing it. But I really thought that the people who consumed the content would be happy to pitch in the $1 per month, via Patreon.com, for which I have been plugging shamelessly for years just to keep the light on.
Now, at the end of three years, I’m burned out. Exhausted, actually—and certainly mentally and emotionally drained in large part trying to break through audience apathy. I can’t even IMAGINE how the publisher over at Bklyner must feel—TEN YEARS…honestly. Zagare said, in a recent interview, “News is a public good, society at large benefits from quality reporting on issues big and small.” Which pretty much sums up what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve interviewed internationally renown writers, economists, musicians, chefs, politicians, historians, etc. And I’ve interviewed local business owners, teachers, politicians, clergy, farmers, activists, artists, etc. Unfortunately, because the news is a public good that the public can choose whether or not to pay for, news outlets are left trying to figure out how to raise enough money to keep giving content away for free. Perverse, really, when you think about it.
The subscription process will take place through patreon.com/greylockglass. That way, the Greylock Glass will receive no money until January of 2018. If the 500-subscriber threshold is not reached by December 31st at 11 p.m., I will deactivate all Patreon contributions that were entered. You will be able to visit our page regularly at Patreon to see our progress in building a paying subscriber base.
Five hundred subscribers times five dollars per month does not represent what the Greylock Glass requires to operate. The yearly total, $30K, works out to $14.42 per hour, which is less than the minimum wage recently adopted by our neighbors in New York. This funding level would allow more time spent developing new revenue streams within the Greylock Glass, instead of me taking on freelance work to put food on the table. New revenue will go a long way towards opening up the possibility of hiring at least one more journalist in 2018. These 500 (or more) subscribers will also help create an organizational stability and predictability that will result in even higher quality content produced on a more consistent basis. If we achieve that number, no change in content delivery will occur—no paywalls, no premium content tiers, no monthly limits.
What will happen if the Greylock Glass doesn’t reach it’s goal? Well, the outcome will be a little bit different than that potentially awaiting Bklyner. Except for four episodes of the Top Left Corner, for which I have previous commitments in 2018, I will, indeed, cease local news reporting during a period of reorganization which may last several months. Certain shows, such as the Cornbread Cafe and Plenty, will be produced uninterrupted, as they have a national, even global reach, which will be of interest to corporate advertisers as the shows’ audiences continue to grow.
The most significant change, as a result of failure to reach the goal, will be in the relationship that the Greylock Glass has with its audience. For three years, I’ve nurtured a community-focused, and community-first, approach. As of January 1, 2018, missing the voluntary subscriber goal will result in a shift to a revenue-first approach. Advertising will take on much, much greater importance, including sponsored content. Premium content tiers are guaranteed. And the topics and issues that get news coverage will be determined, in large part, by the number of views and clicks a given piece of content is likely to get.
All of these approaches have been business-as-usual in the mainstream news for years; anyone who doubts it is hopelessly naive. I’ve just been hoping I could get away with being naive a little longer—maybe long enough for the audience to realize that the Greylock Glass represents a rare animal in the journalism jungle—one that tries to provide uniquely in-depth reporting without shoving a bunch of flashing, tacky ads in your face or gathering your private data. And that such a media entity can do some great work when it’s supported by the community it serves.
This newsletter is not the only place you’re going to see this message. You’re getting the full story because you represent the most connected readers and listeners, but if you follow me or the Greylock Glass on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or SoundCloud, you’re likely to see the short version of this appeal for the rest of the month. I’m going to give this campaign every chance of success. I’m proud of what I’ve built over the last three years. I’d like it to keep operating, sustainably, under the same community-centered principles that it started with. But that’s out of my hands now. The clock is now officially ticking.
Stay safe. Be kind to each other. Go easy on yourself.
Jason Velázquez, editor
The Greylock Glass