The question of who owns the news media is important in a democracy. Though it can somehow seem impolite to talk about it.
With some exceptions: We grew up understanding that reports from Pravda should be taken with a grain of salt, and the fact that it was state-owned was often mentioned in news stories about America’s main adversary.
Vladimir Putin, by the way, has reasserted state control over journalism in his country by criminalizing reporting that contradicts the government’s version of events. So, for example, it is now illegal for media outlets to refer to an “invasion” or “war” in Ukraine. That law’s power has been proved: the last of Russia’s independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, has gone silent.
Here in the U.S., we tend to accept that the details of private media ownership don’t need to be noted. We don’t hear “according to the Paramount-Global-entertainment-conglomerate-owned CBS News….”
But we want you to know who owns the Provincetown Independent. In fact, we want you to consider becoming an owner.
Ownership matters when it comes to journalism because it is fundamentally the work of a newspaper to ask hard questions of those who have power. Opening up ownership of the newspaper as broadly as possible is one way, we think, to strengthen its independence and its future.
That’s why we are inviting readers to share ownership of the paper through a Direct Public Offering (DPO) of stock with a $500 minimum. This isn’t an investment that will produce a big financial payoff. It’s an investment in an essential community asset. More on that in a moment.
Yankee magazine published a story this year about New England newspapers that featured Phil Camp, the 85-year-old owner of the Vermont Standard in Woodstock. “The local newspaper is the glue that pulls together towns like his, keeps their residents connected, supports their businesses, and holds their powerful accountable,” wrote Jon Marcus. “Camp lets out a rare burst of anger when asked what would happen if he and people like him didn’t keep alive the tradition of the local newspaper: ‘Some vultures would come in and find a way to put out a rag.’ ”
Yankee reported that, in New England at least, people still support local newspapers: “Nonprofits and student journalists are stepping in to fill what gaps exist. And wealthy residents in places from Nantucket to the Berkshires to Harpswell, Maine, are taking over or buying back their community newspapers, or starting new ones.”
Money is part of this story, so let’s tell it.
We launched the Independent three years ago with help from 16 investors who put in a total of $375,000 — less than half of what we knew we would need to become profitable, which we thought would take at least five years.
Now that we are in our third year, it’s time to raise the rest of the capital to guarantee the Indie’s long-term survival.
As publisher and editor, we did not have wealth to contribute, just work. So, our shares of common stock are being bought with what used to be called sweat equity. If the paper becomes profitable, we could theoretically sell our shares. But that’s not the goal. It’s to make something morally and financially valuable enough for others to want to take up the work alongside us and after us.
You can find the names of the paper’s owners by going to the About page of our website and clicking on the links to our Benefit Reports. You’ll see that 12 of the current 18 owners are full-time Outer Cape residents; the other six are part-time residents.
Did they make a good investment? Things have gone pretty well for the Indie, and we expect them to keep improving. We’re aiming for paid circulation of 7,500 by year five; near the end of year three, we’re at 5,500. We’re close to our target on advertising revenue — many local businesses have signed up, as we hoped they would. We counted on getting municipal ads, too, which have been slower in coming.
Our affiliated nonprofit Local Journalism Project — to which many of you have donated — has enabled us to offer fellowships to writers and strengthen our coverage of local news while supporting early-career reporters.
In all, we’re losing about as much money as we imagined we would be at this stage. With Covid slowing down our early growth, we’ve scrimped on staffing more than we would like — to keep as close to our plan as we could. And the cost of housing has made recruiting staff even more difficult.
We are at a critical turning point now.
What needs to happen? We need to complete our initial capital raise to stay on track. And we need to strengthen our ranks.
We’d like to add four full-time experienced people to our team this year: an editor, two reporters, and a businessperson. We hope a full complement of staff will give those who work for the Independent time to take part in and appreciate our communities.
We need to pay people better. We’ll never pay Boston-area salaries. And we’ll never match municipal salaries for police officers, teachers, or town government workers. But we need to become more competitive with the other jobs that community-minded people tend to take. Our senior people should at least earn salaries on a par with librarians’.
We’ve waited to launch this DPO in order to show those of you who love the Outer Cape how an independent news organization can help build community and bring people together to address important issues. We wanted to establish a track record of success so that we could make the case that an investment in your local newspaper makes sense.
Our goal for the DPO is to raise $375,000. The rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commonwealth of Mass. give us one year to do it. We’re ready with more about how you can become an owner of the Indie at invest.provincetownindependent.org. We hope you will join us.