No doubt you’re wondering why the front page was blank this week. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a demonstration to encourage the community to envision what it would be like if there was no longer a newspaper here to serve Johnson County. Without your help, that could soon become a reality.
When we read about newspapers across the state and country closing their doors, we wonder if we are fighting an uphill battle by trying to continue the legacy of The Johnson County Graphic. Like many of our readers, all of us here at The Graphic have grown up and raised our own families here. All our families’ histories are mingled with that of the newspaper in one way or another, and if you’re new to the community, your history is becoming mingled with that of the paper’s as we speak. How many of us grew up with clippings from the paper on our refrigerator or on our grandmother’s, or in our scrapbook? How many built their businesses through advertising in the paper?
For 146 years, The Graphic has served the community through the triumphs and tragedies of tornadoes and fires, championships and celebrations, with our reporting of local news, sports, births, deaths, engagements, weddings, and anniversaries. For more than a century, we’ve partnered with local businesses to help them grow by introducing them to our readers through advertising, sharing their services, their newest products, their upcoming sales, and delivering the marketing messages that have connected them with our community and made them familiar names in our households. And the public notices we print have kept the citizens of Johnson County informed of government spending, which serves to hold the local governing bodies accountable and equips you with knowledge to do the same. Newspapers serve as a check on power by their very existence.
It is with these things in mind and with heavy hearts that we appeal to you, our community, to help us continue. We have been using reserve funds to get by for several years now and had one more year’s worth of funds to help us continue to turn things around, until the week before Christmas, when we received an unexpected letter requiring a payment that wiped out a significant portion of that money. That means, without your support, we will need to permanently close our doors within the next three or four months. We need to make an extra $11,000 per month to stay afloat and that feels almost insurmountable.
The past year has been busy and filled with change. Our beloved publisher of 50 years, Ron Wylie, retired in January 2023, and his daughter-in-law, Megan, came on board to fill the gap. We have steadily resumed coverage of local governments and organizations, added feature stories of local interest, built up our advertising, introduced a fun page, increased our page count, brought in a splash of color to three more pages each week, improved our website, started a Facebook page, and broadened our service offering with digital advertising options for our customers. In 2023, our six-person staff composed 568 pages of news, covered over 130 public meetings, and wrote an average of 60 stories per month. We designed roughly 650 ads and published 481 public notices. We delivered 135,200 papers to racks and homes all over Johnson County and beyond.
We’ve laughed and cried, butted heads a few times and extended forgiveness, brainstormed, worked late and on weekends, and overcome many challenges and disappointments. In the process, we have grown as people and in our love for our community and have become a closer work family. We think we have a better paper for it and we’re proud of that…but it isn’t enough to keep the lights on.
As we’ve all no doubt noticed, prices have gone up across the board for all kinds of goods and services. For The Graphic, this means increased costs for paper, printing, fuel and maintenance for delivery vehicles, and the everyday expenses that are incurred when running a small business (professional dues, utilities, insurance, taxes, technology, building maintenance and payroll). Our small staff hasn’t had raises or bonuses in many years. We certainly aren’t in the newspaper business to become wealthy. All of us here have a sense of duty and calling to serve the public by doing what we do, and we take seriously our role as stewards of this unique institution, which stands now as one of the 50 oldest businesses in the state of Arkansas.
Beginning this month, the United States Postal Service is increasing postal rates for periodicals by over seven percent. With this raise in rates, the cost to mail papers to our subscribers will have increased over 40 percent since January 2020 and the Postmaster General has said postal rates will continue to increase approximately every six months for the foreseeable future.
Pair these increases with a steady decrease in advertising over the last 10 years, including a sharp reduction during COVID, and our cost to produce and distribute the paper has outpaced our revenue by 66 percent. Many businesses opt to use social media these days which has changed the newspaper industry worldwide and, while we don’t fault them for that, advertising is 85 percent of our revenue (paper sales being the other 15). We simply cannot go on without the advertising support of our local businesses.
We have absorbed the decrease in revenue for 10 years, hesitant to ask more of our advertisers, readers, and subscribers, but the last few years have really taken a toll. As one can imagine, it is no longer economically feasible for us to simply absorb increased costs. We must be able to meet expenses, yet still desire to continue to make strides in offering wider coverage and additional content. We also feel strongly about continuing to produce a printed paper, a printed historical record, and don’t want to go the way of many papers by going to online-only availability, laying off staff or closing altogether. We’ve done numerous things over the last several years to offset costs and try to increase revenue and it’s helping, but not fast enough.
What We’re Doing
–We have steadily decreased the number of papers we print over the last several years to cut waste.
–We started a Facebook page in March 2023, to increase visibility and share some of our content.
–In April 2023, we expanded our advertising services to include digital advertising, including search engine optimization (SEO), social media advertising, Google and YouTube ads, recruitment ads, website hosting and more. We’d love to tell you more about that if you’re a business owner!
–We sold one of our delivery vans to save insurance and maintenance fees.
–In June 2023, we raised advertising rates for the first time in over 20 years.
—Effective next week, Feb. 7, the price of The Graphic will be $1 per issue. This will be reflected in our subscription rates as well. We have not raised the price of the paper since July 4, 2001. That’s 22 years. Is there anything that’s stayed the same price for the last 22 years?
—We’re adding QR codes to all rack signs and will accept payment for papers or donations via Cashapp, Venmo, Paypal, or Bitcoin to make it easier to purchase a paper, subscribe or donate wherever you are. You will still be able to pay with coins or cash. Our coin operated racks will be set up to receive four quarters. Our honor racks will, of course, take any combination of coins or paper money.
–We are adding a “donate” button to our webpage.
–As of Jan.1, our managing editor no longer receives a salary.
–Thanks to many local businesses, we’ve increased the number of racks throughout the community.
–We are paying for some of the costs of supplies, maintenance, and fuel with our personal resources.
–We will be reaching out to local schools to partner with the next generation of journalists.
What You Can Do
–Buy a paper weekly and pay more than the $1 price if you can. It’s easy with the new payment options on our rack signs.
—Subscribe. We offer yearly or recurring monthly subscriptions. An annual digital subscription is a little cheaper than purchasing a paper from the rack each week.
–Gift a subscription to someone else. We have gift certificates available.
–Tell your co-workers, friends, and family about us and encourage their support. Follow us on Facebook and share our posts so people find out about us.
—If you own or operate a business, please advertise with us regularly. We offer discounts for commitments over 12 weeks. The longer the commitment, the bigger the discount. We can work with any budget and can do the design work for you at no extra cost, for both print and digital advertising. Our current advertisers are some of the most experienced and successful businesses around and they know the value of being in the paper week after week. It’s one reason many of them have become so well-established.
–Ask your employer to advertise.
–Volunteer to report on news, provide photos, or to be a community correspondent.
—Consider a one-time or recurring donation. By donating, you’re investing in and supporting our role of watching out for community interest and in helping to build Johnson County, as we’ve done faithfully for over a century.
–Please pay for the papers you take. We had an estimated 8,200 papers stolen in 2023 and had about 100 stolen all at once from the two racks at the front of our building just last Wednesday night.
–If you have an account with us, please pay on time. We have over $9,000 in unpaid invoices as of today.
–Contact your U.S. Congressmen and ask them to support the Community News and Small Business Support Act. Introduced in July 2023, its aim is to support valuable local journalism by giving financial assistance to local news organizations and giving tax credits to businesses who advertise with them. Win-win!
A local newspaper is a mark of a healthy, informed, and vibrant community and plays a vital role in democracy and history. We perform a public service yet are still a small business that needs to make ends meet.
Statistics show that roughly two papers per week are closing their doors, leaving news deserts, especially in small towns and rural areas. With this absence, invariably come increases in crime, government spending and corruption due to lack of accountability, political polarization, a decrease in voter turnout and participation in the democratic process, and a general disconnectedness and apathy in the community. Communities without newspapers also tend to have poorer economic growth and health, and their municipalities pay higher interest costs for their bond issuances. Is that what we want for Johnson County?
Who else is recording the history of the community as it happens for future generations to learn from and to give them a sense of place and rootedness? Not the internet or social media. Who else can give you verified, trusted news? Social media posts aren’t verified, and the sources of information cannot always be trusted. Who else is going to cover every local government and board meeting and report responsibly to the public? How will you know how your tax money is being spent without our coverage of these meetings and our public notices?
How will the public find out about law enforcement reports and court news? Or government spending, new ordinances, and school board meetings? Will you seek out these records and the minutes of these meetings scattered all over the county? Will you proactively search for them on the internet, and read them to stay informed? We encourage you to engage with your local government with your presence at meetings, but you certainly won’t be able to attend all which we apply to you. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to read The Graphic to find out about all these things?
We believe that local news matters to individuals and to our community. We play a vital role in informing and bringing our community together, and the only way forward for us is for you, our community, to step in, show your support and help us continue in the role we have had since 1877. We humbly plead with you to partner with us in this endeavor so we can continue to serve the community we love. We will be working as hard as we can, as long as we can. But ultimately, the future of The Graphic, the community’s future, is in your hands. What will you do with it?
The Staff of The Johnson County Graphic
Ron and Margaret Wylie
If you would like to donate to help keep our doors open and continue to serve Johnson County with local news, there is a donate button on our home page. Thank you for partnering with us to support community journalism!
This letter appears in the Jan. 31 issue of The Graphic.