By Mary Lou Fulton
This week, I canceled my L.A. Times subscription. Though I only received the newspaper four days a week, on most days the print edition went from the porch to the recycling bin without being opened.
However, I do read LA Times content online, and believe in doing my part to support local journalism. So I offered to simply give the newspaper the same amount of money I was paying for the print subscription (about $60 a year) so that I could support LA Times journalism in the same way that I support programming on my local National Public Radio station.
Unbelievably, this wasn’t possible.
When I asked the very polite subscriber services representative if I could simply give the newspaper money, she first asked me if I wanted to switch to a Sunday-only subscription, and then told me about an e-edition that allowed me to read a digital version of the newspaper layout online (but only if I also subscribed to the print edition). In response to my explaining, again, that I just wanted to donate money to help offset the costs of journalism, she put me on hold for a few minutes and then returned to say that I could give money to Newspapers in Education, which provides newspapers to schools as a teaching tool. But I wanted to do none of those things, and so the call ended with the cancellation of my subscription and her suggestion that I contact the LA Times reader’s representative to see if there was anything that could be done with my idea.
I can explain what to do in one word: PayPal. All that the LA Times or any news organization needs to do is set up an account on PayPal that allows people to give money. Have this money go into an account specifically designated to support the costs of running the newsroom. If the LA Times has the technology expertise to build an iPhone app, then setting up a PayPal account is a no-brainer. Every nonprofit news organization I know has a Donate button somewhere on its web site and is counting on this kind of support as an important source of revenue. And if you really want to make me happy, throw in some extra perks, like giveaways for event tickets, or maybe even forge a partnership with Zocalo to stage some events of your own to highlight issues reporting by the newsroom.
If 30,000 people gave the LA Times $60 each per year, that would be $1.8 million. That’s about a third of what local NPR station KPCC raises in individual donations per year, according to an LA Times report.
This membership concept is not going to be a silver bullet for local media, but what is the downside to making it available? It just doesn’t make sense that the only way for a consumer to support newspaper-based local journalism is through subscribing to an unwanted print edition or buying a classified ad.