When I joined the San Francisco Media Company as the editor-in-chief in late 2018, one of the first things the managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner suggested was starting a program that would ask readers to contribute to the cost of local news gathering. It turned out that others in the company had similar ideas, and I began researching the concept.
I contacted several news organizations including the Texas Tribune, a non-profit with a very successful operation built on membership, and of course, The Guardian’s program is well-known.
Many of these programs helped inform ours. But since The Examiner is a for-profit company, we sought a different approach and one that fit our readership. Our bottom line was that we wanted to keep both our online content and home-delivered print edition free. But we also knew that some readers would likely be willing to pay for extras that, in turn, help offset the cost of producing well-reported, award-winning journalism. We came up with a program that allows readers to show their appreciation for our locally sourced San Francisco Bay Area news coverage, and in return we show our appreciation to them.
We launched the membership program on Nov. 3. It offers members a curated selection of Examiner experiences depending on the level of membership they choose, which ranges from $40 a year to $1,000. Keeping to the core of what we do, these benefits are nearly all journalism-related: classes taught by journalists, tours of the newsroom, free access to newspapers.com archives, exclusive newsroom updates, and more. And, of course, we will give them a sticker, specially designed by our art director, so they can display their love for “Local News, Made Locally.”
On Monday morning, the day after launch, I came into work to learn that members had already started signing up. Now, we have the happy task of scheduling the events, managing the memberships and mailing out the stickers. We’d love to know what you think.
To learn more, here is our signup page, and here is the column I wrote with our publisher, Jay Curran, introducing the concept to readers.
— Deborah Petersen is editor in chief of San Francisco Media Co. which publishes The Examiner, SF Weekly and SF Evergreen.