Historic free edition

Published 9:12 pm Monday, July 4, 2011

With all the bad news about newspapers and the state of journalism in America, the paper you hold in your hand today has at least one bit of good news that we hope will be worth sharing:

From now on, all newsstand copies of the Suffolk News-Herald will be distributed for free.

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“We want to make community news available to every citizen, regardless of ability to pay,” Editor Res Spears said Monday. “A newspaper’s greatest purpose is to provide its community with news and information that is essential, and we believe offering that information for free will make it accessible to everyone in Suffolk.”

The News-Herald will be distributed without charge six days a week from more than 200 racks and dealer locations throughout the city. Staff members are scouring the city for locations for 50 or more new distribution locations, as well, and they have asked for the public’s help in identifying places where the newspaper should be distributed.

“The whole idea here is to get the newspaper in front of as many people as possible each day,” Spears said. “So if you know a merchant who is interested in helping us meet that goal — while increasing foot traffic at his own store — give us a call. And if you know where we can put a standalone newspaper box, especially in some of the more rural parts of the city, let us know.”

The News-Herald’s experience with free distribution in the northern part of the city proved the value of offering the newspaper at no charge, Spears said, noting that four years ago only about 150 subscriptions came from that part of the city. As of last week, more than 5,000 free copies were being picked up from North Suffolk newsstands each day.

Spears said he and other members of the newspaper’s leadership team expect that the change also will be beneficial to readers and to advertisers, as well as to the city itself.

With the paper freely available, more readers are expected in all parts of Suffolk, giving the News-Herald a greater penetration into the market, a measure that is closely watched by advertisers. Higher penetration should thus drive higher levels of advertising, he said.

And greater levels of readership and advertising, Spears added, should help the Suffolk News-Herald meet another of its objectives.

“We believe a strong community newspaper is vital to the city’s growth and development,” Spears said. “A free citywide newspaper will help create community among a geographically and demographically diverse citizenry.”

The News-Herald will fulfill its commitment to current subscribers, and those who wish to take advantage of convenient home or mail delivery can do so for a fee, depending on their location. For more information about home and mail delivery, call Yvette Brozzo at 934-9606.

The newspaper will celebrate the new free distribution model with a weekly contest for the next eight weeks. Look inside your paper each day for a special golden-ticket insert. One winner’s name each week will be placed into a drawing for a grand-prize vacation package.

“We’re very excited about this change,” Spears said. “And we hope folks all over the city will join us as we celebrate FREEdom at the Suffolk News-Herald.”