Still free and happy two years later

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Two years ago this week, our newspaper made a radical change that had some of you ready to commit us to the loony bin.

“Are they crazy?” Suffolk businessman and friend Wayland Pond now acknowledges thinking, if not uttering aloud, back in the summer of 2011 when the News-Herald announced plans to abandon our 138-year-old paid-subscription model and give our newspaper free to anyone who wanted to read it.

Wayland didn’t know me at the time, as I was living 30 minutes away in Franklin and working behind the scenes in Suffolk. Editor Res Spears was on the front lines here, fielding the many calls and visits of those of you who questioned our sanity.


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A couple of years later, when Wayland, over Easter lunch at his sister’s house, quizzed me about free distribution, it was much easier to take responsibility. I had made the decision and lived to tell about it.

There was a method to our madness two years ago — a calculated risk that we could more than offset the lost subscription revenue with additional advertising dollars — but I’d be lying now if I claimed 100 percent certainty then that it would work.

It was a calculated risk with good odds but no guarantees.

For all of our high-mindedness about journalistic achievement, the newspaper business model is quite simple: We’re in the business of selling eyeballs.

Good journalism is essential to attracting readers, to be certain, but getting your eyes on our customers’ advertisements is much more valuable to us than whatever you might be willing to pay for a subscription, assuming you’re willing to pay at all.

I’m convinced that people are as interested in news and information as they’ve ever been. They’re just not as eager to pay for it in an age when free information is readily available.

Rather than wringing our hands about consumer trends, we’ve chosen to make Suffolk news and information as widely available as we possibly can.

The more of you who read our newspaper, the more effective we are as a marketing vehicle for local businesses.

Two years after our controversial decision, the verdict is in: In an era of declining newspaper readership around the world, the News-Herald is reaching more readers than ever before: half of all Suffolk adults with our daily newspaper alone, not counting our online and magazine readers.

We appreciate each and every one of you. In a crowded, fragmented information marketplace, you form a powerful audience for businesses seeking Suffolk consumers to purchase their goods and services.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is