The New Republic*
After my previous editorial call for help (“Hit By A Truck,” ER May/June/July 2011) and rethinking of the organization of The Ester Republic and its parent company, the Ester Republic Press, Her Editorship got quite a few e-mails, phone calls, and concerned comments from the readership. It was gratifying that the reorganization meeting held on August 21 attracted nine people, including a couple of actual journalists. The meeting took two hours, and resulted in a few decisions and a concrete, if preliminary, plan.
First, the sole-proprietor business model will change to some form of low- or nonprofit financial structure. There are many excellent nonprofit journals that serve as inspiring examples: The Guardian, Mother Jones, ProPublica, The Sun, Yes! magazine. Several alternatives were discussed at the meeting. The 501(c)(3) version doesn’t appear to be a suitable option, because IRS rules restrict free speech: this type of organization can’t endorse a political candidate, for example, which is something that newspapers do all the time. The editorial, which is the voice of the paper (and the publisher/editor), is a highly politically charged space, and would be disallowed under IRS rules. The model of a cooperative was also something we talked about, but it might cause editorial issues (members demanding to know why, for example, the Republic isn’t reporting more on the alien spaceship landings on Ester Dome Summit**), and it could be unwieldy for decision-making in a fast-paced*** news environment. Still, examples like the Chicago News Cooperative do exist, and it is in fact produced by a 501(c)(3) as a project in the public interest.
The Green Bay Packers community-owned version is great for ensuring a local tie and for rare surges of funding from stock sales, but isn’t so good for providing ongoing income (the Republic doesn’t host regular events packed with hundreds of thousands of ticket-paying news fans, and while news-as-entertainment seems to be the prevailing business view of, say, Fox News, it’s not quite where I want to go with the paper). Still, the Packers provide my favorite business model, which would work well in combination with a foundation or endowment, and, like the team’s community service arm, could provide a means to give to the larger community in ways other than providing news and entertainment (for example, journalism or writing scholarships).
It became clear very quickly that more research is needed on the actual type of business structure to move toward, and a development plan to move the paper from the sole proprietorship it’s in now to a functioning nonprofit mode with staff and better visibility, once the best business model is found. We’ll be working on those details during the next few months, and should have it worked out by the end of the year.
This discussion led to a second question: where and what, exactly, is the community that the Republic serves? Ester, obviously, and the west end of Fairbanks, too, but there is also a larger community of interest, and people who live in Anchorage, the East Coast, Australia, and elsewhere are part of it. The Republic could have a much larger circulation, because its community of interest is a whole lot more populous than the People’s Republic of Ester. The character and tone of the paper will remain the same, and everyone liked the notion of expanding both local reporting and investigative journalism.
In the meantime, a few changes in how the paper is operated will begin this month. First, taking a cue from The Giant Cabbage, the Republic will begin hosting a regular monthly mailing party, to which the readership is invited (announcements posted on the main page of the website and on Facebook). We’ll be stuffing envelopes, slapping labels on papers, and getting all those subscription, contributor, and ad copies ready to mail the day or the day after the paper comes out. The party will be at the Republic office, studio #2, upstairs at the Annex at 2922 Parks Highway. The Publisher will provide pizza and beverages (participants are welcome to bring their own, too); I’m hoping this will greatly reduce the time that the paper takes to get into the hands of the public!
Next, the Publisher will aggressively pursue getting interns into the office. There hasn’t been much excitement evinced by the UAF Journalism Department staff and faculty over the years about interning at the Republic, judging by the distinct lack of interns here over the last decade, despite the fact that an internship is a requirement for journalism majors—the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and other news media in the area seem to get them all. However, I haven’t been trying too terribly hard to interest UAF students. That will change with this semester.
The Publisher will also bring back the Birthday Bash, but now it will serve as a fundraiser as well as being a damn good party and a vehicle to present awards to deserving contributors. The 11-12-13 Bash (gotta make up for a few years) will be held in January or February 2012. You are all invited.
And finally, the Republic’s online presence will expand. This means that more articles from past issues will be available and the current issue will be up quicker. Also, the Publisher will be rattling on again on her blog and Facebook.
It’s important to note that for the moment, nothing has changed. The paper is still running on its skinnier-than-shoestring budget and is still mostly produced by one person coordinating the efforts of a lot of volunteers. But this is in the process of changing, and the Publisher can look forward to a bit of relief in the not-too-distant future. As new staff are added, we’ll introduce them in these pages, and soon, we hope, the Republic will become a force to be reckoned with—and the Publisher will be able to cross the street without fear (although she’ll still be looking both ways).
* Not to be confused with The New Republic, although the two magazines have a few things in common.
**Letters to the editor on topics such as these are, of course, always welcome, but cooperative members have a vote, which could lead to hairy situations in the editor’s office. As in, the editor forcefully removing what little hair she has left on her head.
***Okay, okay, I know, in a paper that prides itself on publishing the “olds” rather than the news, this does sound a little funny, but we’re thinking ahead here.
For more detail on the reorganization of the Ester Republic Press and the newspaper, see www.esterrepublic.com/Revamp/revamp.html.