All West St. Paul Reader content is made freely available to the public with no subscription required. No paywalls here. So with newspapers failing and a coverage area of just five square miles, how does this even work?
West St. Paul Reader is a member supported, community service model, much like public radio. We do neighborhood news supported by neighbors, and it’s those neighbors who make it work.
How do you make money?
We’re funded by community members who support neighborhood news. Right now about 200 members support us with monthly or annual payments, starting at $3 per month.
Why do they support you?
Because they see the value in neighborhood news. They’ve seen local news dry up and disappear, and they understand if it’s going to exist they have to support it.
We offer our members a number of rewards—a members-only weekly email, a thank you postcard created by a local artist, and a discount in our store. But honestly, most members say they support us for the neighborhood news and the rewards are just a bonus.
So how does this work?
Well, it barely works. It does not pay like a full-time job. At this point it pays like a steady part-time job, which is a vast improvement over nothing. We’re grateful.
Three factors have really made it work:
- Freelancing: While we like to write in the plural ‘we,’ this is basically a one-person operation. Thanks to my day job as a full-time freelancer, I can effectively treat West St. Paul Reader as one of my clients. That means I’m not entirely reliant on it for income, and I also have the flexible schedule to accommodate the demands of news coverage. In short, the flexibility of time and income that come with freelancing allow West St. Paul Reader to work.
- Patience: In the early days, we were making less than minimum wage and this was truly a labor of love. We’ve been able to slowly grow since we started back in 2019. That involved a lot of patience and commitment to the cause. Few corporate news organizations would commit this much time to developing a sustainable model. It’s no path to riches, but it’s on the way to sustainability.
- Community support: It’s all about our generous members. This only works because of our neighbors who step up and support us as members. All the flexibility and patience in the world wouldn’t get us anywhere if we didn’t have neighbors who believe in this cause and are willing to pay for it. We couldn’t do this without them. Frankly, our members are doing the work of keeping the entire community informed.
What does the money pay for?
Support from neighbors pays for all our expenses:
- Time: That’s primarily my time as the one-man band who keeps the site running. And it takes a lot of time: 698 posts totalling 466,760 words to date. Meetings, interviews, research, writing, editing, promoting—earlier we called it a part-time job in terms of pay, but in terms of time it tries to be all-consuming.
- General expenses: We try to run pretty lean, but we have all the expenses you might expect—web hosting, software, professional services, insurance, etc.
- Contributors: As we’ve grown, we’ve also been able to hire contributors and slowly increase their pay. More support means we can hire contributors more frequently. In 2019, we hired one contributor. In 2023, we’ve hired contributors nine times so far.
- Postcards: It’s not a huge expense relative to everything else we do, but member support means we can commission local artists to create West St. Paul postcards. Saying thank you, giving local artists a platform, and highlighting West St. Paul is all pretty great. As an online news site, postcards have been a way we can become a physical, tangible presence that shows up in your mailbox.
The bigger answer is the money pays for a stronger community. Learning what’s happening in the community, from street projects to park improvements, from local elections to new businesses, from government meetings to interesting personalities, keeps the community informed and engaged. Neighborhood news can be pretty powerful.
That makes $3 a month sound like a bargain.
Support Our Coverage
So that’s how neighborhood news works. It’s thanks to folks like you who step up and make this service freely available to the wider community. Please consider becoming a member and supporting our efforts.
- Starts at just $3 per month.
- Pay annually and save 5%.
- Get a locally commissioned West St. Paul postcard, weekly member updates, and a discount to our store.
The support is especially important during our member drive, where we have extra rewards and are pushing toward some big goals.
(Photo by Sam Amundson, one of our contributors from this summer’s Explore West St. Paul Days parade.)