Illustration by Carola Noguer

It’s a pity dogs don’t read. For there they wait, eager and bright-eyed, from the wall paintings in Pompeii, blissfully unaware of their fate, to Jan Van Eyck’s 15th century Arnolfini portrait, to the countless Facebook videos in which they let themselves be mauled by affectionate toddlers.

They are so loyal. And, given the opportunity, they would surely pay for news content. Yes, they might demand more coverage of dog runs or fewer photos of cats, but if asked to contribute, they would. I have no doubt.

In contrast, most loyal readers are freeloaders. I can be too – although running a local news site makes it impossible to ignore how many of the very places I enjoy reading are in jeopardy. As the NYT reported on Sunday, more than 1,300 U.S. communities “are without local news coverage and thousands more have poor coverage.” More than one in five newspapers closed between 2004 and 2018, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.

Mission Local faces the same threat. If we can’t figure out a model – and you, loyal reader, are the most likely model – we too won’t last. Yet if everyone pitches in, maintaining a local news site requires so little.

According to Jonathan Kealing, the chief network officer for the Institute for Nonprofit News, a reader who returns to a site three to five times a month can be considered someone who may eventually turn into a paying member or make a donation, but the reality is that reader generally fails to pay.

Let’s make that bar higher: Take readers who returned to Mission Local more than six times last month. That’s 2,806 individual readers. Their sessions lasted more than two minutes each, just under the average for the country’s top 50 newspapers.

If all of those users paid $10 a month, Mission Local would be awash in money – able to train even more journalists and give you more coverage. If half of those users – interestingly, about the same number that returned more than NINE times in July – paid $10 a month, we would earn $168,000 a year. Counting in our current business members, we would be fully funded.

So don’t be outdone by your favorite mutt, Labradoodle or French Bulldog. Donate now and have that wonderfully virtuous feeling of being able to woof, “I pay for my news.” We promise not to slobber over you.

Earlier columns are here. 

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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