It has been six years since we made the risky but attractive decision to distribute 7,200 of our newspapers to nearly 3000 individual households and more than 100 newsstands across the county for free.
What was attractive about it? Basically, the idea that anyone in the entire community could pick up a paper and get the best in local news even if they couldn’t afford it. After all, the local newspaper is the bedrock for a good, functioning government in a democratic society. An independent local newspaper provides such an essential public service it almost seemed contrary to our mission to deny someone this service because they could’nt afford it. We want to make living in a free and democratic society easier for everyone and not leave anyone out.
We are proud of the results in this regard. The Bitterroot Star is read by more people today than ever before. It is also drawing more “thank yous” from appreciative readers than ever before. Some are sending money along with their thanks with the intention of helping the Bitterroot Star in its mission because they appreciate it. They want to contribute to the business somehow. They want to see their local newspaper grow.
So do we, and, of course, we have gratefully accepted these generous donations. But in talking to many of these people we became aware that it was not considered by them to be a donation. They considered it a “payment for services.” They expected that money not only to compensate us for the service that we were providing for free, but to contribute to making improvements in that service by providing more and, hopefully, better news coverage of the valley.
That caused us to take a little different look at what we had done by going to free circulation. We had not only placed the entire burden of paying for the service on our advertisers, we were also denying our customers the traditional avenue of ‘contributing’ to the bottom line through their annual subscriptions. People get a sense of ownership when they pay for things in our society. They consider it an ‘investment’ in the businesses that they use and whose services they appreciate. They take free services as a kind of ‘hand out’ and many seem to prefer to pay the honest cost.
As a result, we are ready to endorse a concept put before us by one of these “not-a-donors”. He suggested calling it a “Friends Fee.” It is a win-win-win situation that benefits our advertisers by taking the load of cost-of-services off their shoulders entirely. By providing an opportunity to those readers who want to pay for this service, we also afford them an avenue for contributing to the improvement of those services beyond what the local business community can support. And it still allows those who want to, or who need to, to pick it up for free! It benefits the newspaper and it benefits the community. By sharing the cost with advertisers, it enhances the community’s opportunity to have the best possible local news that it can afford.
So, if you want to become a Friend of the Bitterroot Star, send your “Friends Fee,” which can be anything from $1 to $100 to $1,000 (or more, because some people think a having a free and independent press in a democracy is ‘priceless’) to the Bitterroot Star at P.O. Box 8 Stevensville MT 59870. Write “Friends Fee” on the memo and we promise you that your money will go directly towards cost of services and improvement of services at the Bitterroot Valley’s only locally owned and independent newspaper.
Michael and Victoria