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A wonderful thing happened at the COURIER

I thought I’d seen everything after 43 years in the newspaper business. But this came as a total surprise. So much so, it still gives me goosebumps when thinking about it. No, the COURIER did not win the lottery, although this feels a lot like it.

About a week ago I received a letter—typed using a manual typewriter—mailed to the office. It went on to say, “I am so grateful to be living in a city this size that has a weekly newspaper. Please accept this one-time gift as a token of my appreciation.”

Seeing another piece of paper that looked like a check, my immediate thought was how thoughtful it was a subscriber gave us $25 to support the cause. Then I turned the check over.

It was written for $2,000.

First off, I thought the decimal was in the wrong spot. Nope. Two thousand was spelled out. I continued to stare because I really could not believe what I was seeing. It was a stunning act of generosity. Our readers often give us positive feedback, but this was different. It’s like the donor knew the effort it takes to report the news. This show of support was far beyond what any of the staff could have imagined.

Given the donor wants to remain anonymous, we will of course keep the name confidential. But it speaks volumes for people who value an independent community news source.

Over the years I’ve written many columns about the shrinking newspaper industry. At one point online news sources were popping up to help fill the void. Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had a renewed focus on local news. The news media business was evolving.

The love affair with social media as a news source was short lived when it became clear there were few checks and balances with the content. Professionals who made gathering and editing news a career were being laid off. At one point, Facebook tried to hire them, but did not understand the hard work it takes to report local news. Social media also made everyone a publisher. That’s great, except when you are looking for accurate unbiased reporting.

Now the economics for these digital companies is hitting a wall. And it came down to facts I have mentioned for many moons. It takes resources to report accurately, to be that watchdog for which readers are so hungry.

Which is why paying for a subscription is so important. There is no successful business model, for large and small media companies, that can survive giving their content away for free. Publishers keep trying…and keep crashing. The tale of the Orange County Register is the perfect example. But there are many, many examples.

Now as each week passes, local news sources keep disappearing. Some—like the Idyllwild Town Crier—actually have asked for donations to stay alive.

The COURIER remains healthy because of the strong generosity from all of you. Our readership is growing, but most of that is online. To stay in business, the COURIER needs a strong print edition to pay bills. Fortunately, the newspaper has off-the-charts readership numbers. We are not exaggerating when saying it’s read cover to cover.

As residents, our staff often thinks about what Claremont would be like if the COURIER did not exist. The obvious concern is Claremont would become a news desert…which is 100 percent accurate. But what about all those hundreds of Claremont businesses who use the COURIER to find customers? Social media locally doesn’t have the reach. The COURIER effect—the instant uptick in business from an ad or story—would be gone.

The impact on local businesses would have a serious negative impact on the Claremont economy. You may not agree, but as someone who sits in the catbird seat, it’s clear as a Santa Ana windy day. It’s also why the COURIER staff takes their jobs seriously, driven by trying to do the right thing for the community.

Which brings me back to the large donation. I’m not expecting donations to keep the COURIER alive. But it’s my hope (and goal) to make Claremont’s community newspaper so valuable, you can’t live without it. Then buying a subscription, or placing an ad, becomes a natural thing to do. It will also keep residents informed and Claremont in business.

—Peter Weinberger

pweinberger@claremont-courier.com