Our journalism, your support Become a Free Press Patron: Readers like you are key to securing a future for our independent journalism
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When we began planning how to mark our 150th anniversary, I wanted to focus more on our future than our past.
That’s not to say I didn’t want to celebrate our legacy and all the Free Press has accomplished since that first edition came off the press in 1872. But in today’s turbulent news ecosystem, our ability to generate headlines is dependent on our bottom line. And that’s why in our 150th year, I am turning to our readers with an extraordinary request and offer to come aboard as Free Press Patrons.
Before I get to the request and the offer, I need to give you some background on what it takes to run the largest newspaper newsroom west of Toronto.
Our newsroom budget is approximately $6 million a year. That covers everything from salaries to wire services to reporters flying north to cover events in Churchill or east, west and south to cover the Winnipeg Jets in every NHL city.
In order to secure a future for independent journalism in this community, we need a sustainable source of revenue to pay for all that we do. While advertising was once more than enough to pay the bills, those days are long gone. The reality for newspapers everywhere is a downward trend in advertising dollars.
Fortunately for the Free Press, the one upward trend we have is the one tied to revenue from readers like you. That’s why we are working hard to reach a paid readership of 100,000 that involves maintaining our existing print subscriber base of 50,000 while growing the number of digital subscribers.
If we can hit that 100,000 target, our newsroom will have the fiscal stability needed to deliver the journalism this city and province needs.
We are about three-quarters of the way to that target, but we need to step up the pace of our paid readership growth. We also need to prepare for the looming loss of a federal tax credit for journalism in 2024 worth $1 million annually to the newsroom’s budget.
Throughout the pandemic, I heard time and time again from readers how essential the Free Press is as we covered a once-in-a-century public-health crisis. Today, I am asking readers to recognize this essential service we provide requires the support of patrons who believe in the power of our journalism.
Our hope is there are enough readers willing to celebrate our past by helping secure our future with a gift of $150. In recognition of that contribution, Free Press Patrons will have access to a wide range of benefits, including a chance to attend the private opening of the new Winnipeg Art Gallery exhibit to mark our 150th anniversary, Headlines: The Art of the News Cycle.
We also want Free Press Patrons to help us grow our paid readership. All patrons will receive a free subscription they can give as a gift to someone who is not currently a Free Press reader, plus a special promo code to bring at least one more subscriber into our fold.
We hope to welcome 1,500 patrons into this new program, a goal that would deliver $225,000 in new revenue for the newsroom plus a similar amount if each patron was able to secure at least one more paid reader. With the support of patrons, we will be able to ensure the newsroom doesn’t take a hit when federal support wanes — and also increase the readership we need to thrive.
When the Free Press began in a rented shack on Main Street 150 years ago, it faced a world of challenges. But within three months, it boosted its paid circulation to 1,022. Pretty good, considering the settlement’s population was just 1,457.
The Free Press of today faces a different world of challenges. In the past decade, 300 papers across Canada have either shut down or merged. That is not a road I ever want to see the Free Press headed down. With your help, that destination will never be in our future.
As we entered this sesquicentennial year, we changed the look of our masthead to incorporate the following words: For Manitoba. For 150 years. Forever with your support. Those words capture the essence of this new patron program.
I look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible as patrons and thank you in advance for allowing me to make this plea on behalf of a newspaper with a proud past that’s committed to serving our city and province in the future.
Paul Samyn has been part of the Free Press newsroom for more than a quarter century, working his way up after starting as a rookie reporter in 1988.