“We are inviting you and other readers to help us by voluntarily paying the cost of printing and delivering your paper, which we estimate to be about $52 annually,” Kennedy—who’s been with the Current for roughly 14 years—wrote. “To show our appreciation, we’d be happy to give you a free classified ad over the next year.”
Current Newspapers publisher says shuttering of Gazette papers has affected their advertising revenue stream. pic.twitter.com/rpBjCyvsf4
— Cuneyt Dil (@cuneytdil) October 21, 2015
The Current, a free-distribution collection of four local nameplates (Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont, and Northwest) that was founded in 1967, is now asking readers to help support it through optional subscription fees. The purported reason? Because the Washington Post closed its Gazette papers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties this June, and the Current had an advertising partnership with it that allowed regional businesses to reach the suburbs. So, after the Gazette closed, the Current lost a significant share of its revenue. It uploads PDFs of its weekly editions on its website, but does not offer advertisements online—unlike most other local outlets.
In an interview with City Desk, Kennedy says the paper’s circulation hovers just north of 48,000 and has not been “materially affected” by the broader shift to digital media. While auditors most recently gave the Current an approximately 90-percent readership rate, Kennedy says the advertising side of business is not as “booming” as it was before the recession.
“We will probably look at [digital advertising], but we have not made any decision on it,” he says. “We were a little surprised that [the Gazette closed.] It took a while to affect us.”
Kennedy adds that “quite a few” readers have already sent in checks or their credit card information to voluntarily subscribe to the papers. (He wouldn’t disclose how much the Current has lost in ad revenue due to the shuttering of regional outlets.) He also said he’s negotiating to get a new printer for the papers because its present one in Springfield will stop operating by Feb. 28. “We might add circulation, who knows?”
The Current’s readership skews older-than-25 and educated: Kennedy explains most readers have an advanced degree. The papers largely cover hyper-local news, including monthly meetings of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, civic associations, and business groups. It has a staff of about “five or six” people, including reporters, editors, and designers (freelancers contribute to the papers as well). Kennedy says the biggest story the paper has covered during his tenure involves an experimental station for poison gases that American University ran during the First World War, in Spring Valley. The lead staffer on that piece, Charlie Bermpohl, won an environmental reporting award from the National Newspaper Association in 2004. (Bermpohl died in 2010 at the age of 74, in the District.)
The announcement regarding voluntary subscriptions comes as local newspapers—both in D.C. and elsewhere—struggle to adapt to a changing media market that includes scores of neighborhood blogs, and freelance observers, who use Twitter and Facebook to report.
Kennedy says he’s not worried about that kind of overcrowding. Asked if the Current has considered using crowdfunding models like Kickstarter to bring in money, he says, “No.”
“For most of our news, there is no competition. Our news is not available anywhere else.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery