Support A News Cafe, An Oasis In A Media Desert

If you ask me, A News Cafe has been on a bit of a roll lately.

Valerie Ing’s recent column, “What Skeletons Are In Your Closet?” was one of the best things I’ve read on the ongoing national blackface controversy. Shortly before that, former longtime Record Searchlight editor Greg Clark offered his accurate and decidedly gloomy take on the journalism industry, “Newspapers Are In A Death Spiral.”

Also in the mix was A News Cafe publisher Doni Chamberlain’s insightful coverage of the latest disaster to befall Shasta County, Snowmageddon, along with my efforts to get someone, anybody really, to tell me what the Good News Rescue Mission’s capacity is.

Hal Johnson’s weekly Live Music In The North State listings continued to offer the best guide to local live entertainment in the county, and high school film buff Robert Burke’s humorous movie reviews kept us all up to date on the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

There are many more reporters, writers and critics to mention, such as news veteran Jon Lewis’s city of Redding coverage and Deb Segelitz’s periodic dispatches from Scotland.

After nearly 12 years of publication, A News Cafe has become a deeply layered website, featuring local news, entertainment and lifestyle coverage. I like to think of it has a variety magazine, with an independent point of view.

And we’ve been on roll lately, which is all the more amazing to me because about this same time last year, I was worried A News Cafe would cease to exist.

It was Valentine’s Day last year when publisher Chamberlain announced she was exploring new ways to bring revenue into the website, including setting up a subscription paywall. I’ll admit I panicked, knowing that establishing a paywall has been the death knell of many an online publication.

The “soft” paywall went up last summer. Subscribers who wish to view our premium content have the choice of paying $1 for 24 hours access, or $5 monthly on a recurring basis. If they’re feeling flush, readers may contribute up to $40 monthly. For non-subscribers, there’s still a substantial amount of non-premium content that can be viewed for free.

“She’s locked you up in a cage!” said one Facebook friend/fan the first time I posted one of my stories after the paywall went up last summer.

I had the sneaking suspicion he was right. Like many consumers of online news, he wasn’t willing to pay for the content, not even a measly dollar to read his favorite local writer. A paywall practically guarantees the story won’t go viral on social media, unless you’re writing for the New York Times or the Washington Post.

At the time, I felt like I’d lost a significant part of my audience. But over the next coming months, something I expected to happen, the collapse of A News Cafe’s page-views and its comment section, didn’t happen.

To be sure, it was slow-going at first. I selfishly measured our progress with the page-views and comments my articles received, which dramatically declined when the paywall first went up. But much to my surprise, readers began to figure out if they wanted to read the story beneath my clickbait headlines, they had to pay.

A half-year later, the page-views on my articles aren’t as high as they once were, but when I crack 1000 readers, it means more. Now, our readers are paying customers, willing to put their money on the line in support of A News Cafe, the work of my colleagues and my own work. They value what we do, and that’s quite gratifying.

It’s also vitally significant, particular in light of Clark’s opinion piece on the daily newspaper’s inevitable demise mentioned above. It’s not just print journalism that’s in trouble, it’s journalism in all its forms, including radio, television and the internet.

The latter item in that series, the internet, was predicted to be the antidote to the monopolization of print, television and radio by a relative handful of mass media corporations that has occurred in the wake of 40 years of federal deregulation. In many ways it has been, but for an unexpected reason: The internet blew up the advertising model most media companies previously depended on for revenue.

The industry as a whole is still picking up the pieces and attempting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The result in northern California is what I call a “media desert.”

As Record Searchlight executive editor Silas Lyons mentioned in a recent plea for more subscribers not dissimilar to this one, the newspaper is a shadow of what it was just 10 years ago, down from 47 newsroom employees to just nine.

These days, with its focus on transient crime, the paper resembles those wanted posters seen in post offices and is almost as thin.

Jefferson Public Radio does a fair job of presenting different points of views on numerous local topics, and I appreciate the fact I can listen to progressive host Thom Hartmann on KKRN and KFOI, but like most public radio stations in northern California, they appear to be locked in permanent pledge drive.

Meanwhile, the most listened-to station in Shasta County, KQMS, featuring back-to-back right-wing pundits Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage, pays the bills by shilling over-the-counter erectile dysfunction pills, prostate-shrinking potions, concentrated vegetable juice and My Pillow.

I haven’t watched local TV news for years, so I can’t comment much about KRCR, KHSL, KCVU and KIXE, other than to speculate that they too face similar financial pressures in the altered advertising universe that has become the new normal.

The result is a local media that in general has become a mouthpiece for public officials and institutions, private wealth and the status quo, rather than its inquisitors, journalism’s proper and dare I say Constitutionally mandated role. In our media desert, speaking truth to power occurs, but only rarely.

A News Cafe represents a veritable oasis in this arid region. This has much to do with publisher Doni Chamberlain’s ability to assemble a crew of writers who collectively can do it all, and her willingness to let them do their own thing.

That’s why I call it a variety magazine—we’ve got variety in spades.

My thing at a A News Cafe has always been to investigate local BS when I detect it, whether it be the phony arrest and failed prosecution of medical marijuana advocate James Benno by Shasta County, the mega-church Bethel’s anti-LGBTQ crusade or the cruel and unusual punishment the city of Redding metes out to homeless campers.

There’s no question that some of these stories have caused publisher Doni Chamberlain an untold amount of grief, and I’m sorry to admit that more than one advertiser has bolted because of something I wrote. To Chamberlain’s credit, she’s never tried to steer me away from a good story, no matter who or what it’s about.

To the majority of our advertisers’ credit, they’ve stuck by A News Cafe through thick and thin, and I for one am extremely grateful for that.

According to Chamberlain, our growing subscription base offers us some modicum of protection should an advertiser find A News Cafe story objectionable. The advertiser may flee, but our paid readers will stick with us. That’s another thing that didn’t occur to me when I first panicked about the proposed A News Cafe subscription paywall.

What can I say that I haven’t said before, including several times on this website? I was wrong.

As far as my favorite part of A News Cafe is concerned, the comments section, I was wrong about that too. It has actually improved since the paywall went up. According to ANC comment moderator Barbara Rice, this is in large part because the paywall filters out the trolls who used to regularly pester the website.

Apparently. the inability to pay for content is one of the troll’s defining characteristics. I don’t miss them, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

The truth is the journalists working at all the media organizations mentioned above do the best job they can with the limited resources at their disposal. But this is a sales pitch for A News Cafe, so naturally I’m going to side with my colleagues and the boss.

Screw the rest, we’re the best!

We’re a genuine oasis in the middle of a media desert.

If you’re not already A News Cafe subscriber, you should subscribe immediately. There’s no telling what you’ll miss, but I can assure it will be something big.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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53 Responses

  1. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Another great article, R.V. Your friend’s comment about ‘locking you in a cage’ was funny, but in fact the reverse is true. Somehow -magic I suppose – Doni has found some of the best writers around, and opened the door for them to tell the truth. And for the commenters to appropriately (thanks, Barbara!) question and expand on it. The combination of variety and talent is unequalled in these parts. We never know what to expect next from ANC’s great writers, but it’s always amazing. Love the picture of the bright flower growing and blooming against the odds, and I for one am delighted to subscribe for access to such terrific writers and interesting subjects.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      In addition to being a great writer and editor, Doni also has a great nose for talent. It’s a privilege to have my work appear next to my esteemed colleagues! And thank you for the compliment!

  2. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Eloquently stated, R.V.

    “KQMS…., pays the bills by shilling over-the-counter erectile dysfunction pills, prostate-shrinking potions, concentrated vegetable juice and My Pillow.”

    And to these I might add repeated advertisements for discharging credit card debt and relief from taxes owed to the IRS. One wonders about their target audience.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Yeah, there’s those too! It cracks me up, all these radio listeners on boner pills!

  3. Avatar CODY says:

    Did you ever figure out how much $ the County spent on the Benno debacle?

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I got stonewalled on that one. “It costs whatever it costs,” is the stock answer, “we don’t look at it like that.” Tracking down money is hard when you get down to the department level. Someone has to leak it, or you have to file a bunch of freedom of information requests, that they will also stonewall you on. But thanks for reminding me!

      • Avatar don says:

        If you feel “stonewalled” take it to the grand jury, As a former member I was amazed at how cooperative city and county were with us.

        • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

          I’ll no doubt do that someday, Don. One problem with the Grand Jury is the city and the county are fairly selective about which findings they accept.

  4. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    Appreciate all the articles on ANC and will continue to be a paid subscriber….I am one of the throng of folks who cancelled the Record Searchlight years ago when Doni was fired….that was the beginning of the paper’s downfall….current times apparently a death knoll for newspapers… sad

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Thanks for subscribing Peggy. Interestingly, on the way home I was listening to KFOI, and they had a segment about the declining newspaper and online journalism industry, especially at the local level, and they said the answer was: subscriptions!

  5. Avatar Jim Bremer says:

    While I appreciate you mentioning KQMS radio, I’d to clarify the comment about the commercials we air. Like television, there are local commercials and network commercials. Our network agreements require that we broadcast a certain number of minutes per hour of their commercials, both within the shows and outside. The examples given are all network commercials. We have no control over them.
    Jim Bremer
    KQMS Program Director

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Thanks for the clarification Jim. I realized that when I was writing, and I like all of your local broadcasters, but I couldn’t help taking a shot at the fearsome foursome. You are correct sir, you have plenty of respectable local advertisers.

  6. Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

    R.V., I had similar concerns about being locked up in a cage when my column went behind the paywall, and I know that a lot of my friends don’t read me anymore as a result. But to me, it’s worth it because (a) if my friends are that miserly then maybe they don’t deserve to read something that I’ve worked so hard on, and (b) every little bit that helps keep ANC going – and flourishing – is to the good. I know that I do have friends who *will* pay a dollar to read me, which is lovely. So while I’m not ever going to be a top-earner for ANC I at least know I can contribute a small, steady trickle to the common pot. At least I hope I do!

    It’s such a joy and a privilege to write for aNewsCafe, among so much talent, and for such a wonderful community of readers. But it’s such a good quality publication that it’s a pleasure to come and read about what’s happening there, too. When I first started writing here I would check my column when it ran, answer comments and so on, but living a world away I didn’t often read much else. But you and the other contributors are tricksy… you’re very, very good, and the more I read, the more I had to continue to read. I now find myself regularly checking in whether I’ve got a column running or not, and none of you ever disappoint!

    The ‘anniversary’ of the paywall popped up in my Facebook memories and I wondered how things were going. I’m glad to see that it’s going well so far – long may it continue!

    • You know, I’m a pretty lousy online publisher because at the first whiff of a protest about someone not being able to afford a subscription, we will usually give one. People who’ve lost their homes to the Carr or Camp fires? They get free subscriptions. Contributors to ANC – whether photographers or journalists, or people who’ve written letters to the editor, get free subscriptions.

      Paid subscriptions wasn’t something I ever wanted to do, but it’s allowed us to slowly crawl up out of a hole, and they’ve enabled us to even pay more writers.

      I guess my point is although I feel sad to think of writers’ work because locked in a cage, if someone really wants to read ANC, and can’t afford $5 a month, or even $1 for your monthly column, we’ll make it work for them.

      Deb, I’m so glad you’re hear. Thanks for understanding.

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        Doni I think you’re an awesome online publisher, not just because you have a big heart and offer subscriptions to people who can’t afford one, but because you give so many people (like me!) a chance to be published, when we might never have had the chance! I’m so grateful to be here, to get to do something I love and share it with people, so many of whom now feel like old friends.

        My friends who don’t pay even the small $1.00 24hr subscription are by no means unable to do so – they just don’t want to. So please don’t think I meant that they are missing out because of hardship – they just fall into that category of folks who feel that everything online should be for free. You are generous in the free subscriptions you already give, and I know how appreciated it is! My initial concerns about being locked in a cage faded away, similarly to how R.V. felt. Especially because good work *should* be worth paying for – it’s not right that we should sell ourselves short, and you most of all for all the work you do to keep this lovely, informative, interactive place going. The subscription rates are reasonable, and the dollar option is such a great idea that no one who really appreciates ANC is left out.

        I am so glad that the paid subscriptions have been a success, and that ANC is not just surviving but continuing to crawl up out of that hole which threatened to engulf it! Long may it continue!

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I love the buy-it-for-a-dollar option! It makes it easier to twist the arms of friends from out of town. And I love your dispatches from Scotland!

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        I love that option, too! And thanks – I’m glad you enjoy my stories. I enjoy your work too, and the comments to your articles are always interesting as well. So many great discussions/debates!

  7. Avatar George Koen says:

    Mainstream media has become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the views of their owners and sponsors. It is more about subjective news entertainment than actual news.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      There’s no doubt about it, George. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, most of the mainstream media, is total rubbish.

  8. Avatar Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    Searching for news now days is a time-consuming chore. MSM’s are monster junk piles, spewing out endless political stories, four a day repeated 24 times is a day. Watch one hour and you’re done. You come away dumber than you went in.

    The Internet use to be the only answer to those who wanted to know more. But outfits like Facebook and Google and Amazon sensor what you can see and are steering you away from stories they decide are Fake News. Strangely a lot of the progressive sites I frequent are all talking about their viewers becoming less and less driving some out of the business. You can still find what you want but you have to work for it.

    The problem I wrestle with is what sites am I going to pay for, too many to do them all so I have to pick the sites I pay for. I listen to blogs at night and there goes some more money.

    I understand that sites have to pay the bills but they have to understand that we can’t subscribe to all of them..Sites like The New York Times , Washington Post and others, tease you with a few reads, then hit you to pay. Problem with the news these giants provide at least half the time are untrue. Sending you on a hunt for the real story.

    The MSM of today lead you away from the truth more times than not. Just one example in the news of late out of Venezuela. We are lead to believe that this is all Madru’s fault while the truth of the matter is the US has caused this crisis by placing huge sanctions against them and colluded with Saudi’s to lower the price of oil in an attempt to bust Venezuela and Russia. Russia outsmarted them but Venezuela didn’t.

    You have to be careful of your sources and for local stories, of course, THE NEWS CAFE should be your first stop for Redding news.

  9. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Social Media has definitely changed the content of reliable sources. One example is what is happening in Gilbert, AZ. Not only has the local news been aflame about it, but also the national news. For American Spirit Day at Perry High School some students wore MAGA hats and President Trump flags. The students, they claim, were asked to remove the Trump items and were escorted off the campus. The school claims they did not remove the students because of the Trump items but because they were being disruptive. The story keeps changing because of the comments on the news and Facebook from those who say they were actually there and only they know the truth.
    From my personal interaction with teenagers they, like most teenagers, can become agitated over what they believe is their right to express themselves. From my personal interaction with school officials they sometimes react harshly over small happenings. This has also been proven by the Perry principal changing his story over what happened. More they said/they said stuff. With two teenage grand kids in Phoenix schools my choice is to side with the students.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      Bruce, I occasionally substitute teach at local high schools, and I only had to bring the subject of Trump up one time to realize never do that again. The classroom exploded, 75 percent against Trump!

      • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

        RV, I would say the same percentage would be the same in Phoenix high schools but that doesn’t mean that the 25% should be harassed. It seems a lot of young people support President Trump or Bernie Sanders. If Clinton hadn’t sabotaged Sanders campaign, proven by several reputable media, and 2016 had been Trump against Sanders I think the outcome would have been different. The real reason Trump won was because of the anti-Clinton votes. The country is fed up with Bush/Clinton but only the Republicans noticed this.

        • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

          Well, I have to admit, my vote for Trump had a lot to do with my dislike for Clinton. It’s still the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, period.

          • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

            I’ve heard it said that the reason Trump won was that he, oops, Mexico, would build the wall. I disagree. I think he won for exactly what you said, R.V. I feel that virtually anyone except Clinton could have won the election against Trump. The Dems goofed as much in that election as the R’s did when they put forth Bill Simon against Gray Davis for Guv of California back when. Nearly anyone could have beaten Davis because he was so unpopular, but instead, they put forth an unelectable candidate, and Californians were stuck with a very expensive recall.

          • Avatar Robert Scheide Sr. says:

            Damn , two loves on a single post. Must be getting old!

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      I want one of those new MAGA hats. You know, the leaf-green baseball caps that say, MAKE AMERICA GREEN AGAIN!

  10. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    Excellent words RV, as always, and I echo Deb’s comment above. The content on ANC is worth paying for, and the talent in such a small community is amazing (Deb is a member of this community by proxy, forever). The different voices, the different styles, the wide variety are all worth it and it’s a safe space to express truth. Lately I’ve been taking a peek at some of the comments to RS articles on Facebook and they fill me with despair and disgust. This is the right place to be, and ANC deserves every penny.

  11. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    R.V., I too did the same handwringing, but really championed Doni on to finally make the hard decision to put up the paywall because – even though I know fewer people are reading my columns now than before…a grand total of ZERO people would be able to read them if the site were to go away completely. What I think would be amazing is if the public radio model that has worked for Jefferson Public Radio for fifty years would work for A News Cafe as well. That is – if enough people decided to support A News Cafe voluntarily, that it could still remain open and available to all. So people…..tell your friends…support A News Cafe not because you have to, do it just because. Because it offers insight, depth, bravery, and on occasion, a good laugh.

  12. Val, first, thanks for being among those who nudged me toward subscriptions, and you’re absolutely correct when you say that although fewer people may now read your column than before, as much as that hurts, yes, ZERO people would have access if the site went away.

    I like the idea of the public radio membership model. We’ll have to think about that …

  13. RV, I told you this after you submitted this column, but I’ll confess to others: I teared up when I read it.

    You’ve been such a champion for ANC, and have stuck with us, and endured the sting of losing some readers after we implemented the paywall.

    You know you’re a superstar here, for being the kind of journalist who goes where few dare to go. You’re so popular that I saw a post on FB where someone recognized you in the grocery store, but almost didn’t, because your hat was missing.

    I hope you – and your hat – are part of ANC for a very, very long time.

    Thank you!

  14. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I feel vindicated. Long before the paywall was instituted, I told Doni that if the site were to say afloat, viewers had to pony up. She and the regular writers resisted for several more weeks before making the decision. I once wrote that it’s “only” $5 a month, and one frequent commenter took me to task for that. She hasn’t commented since payment was required; so I must assume that “only” $5 was beyond her budget. I regret my insensitive remark.

  15. Avatar Doug Mudford says:

    When Doni first talked of pay for view for ANC, I’m not sure I advised her not to do it but I sure as hell wasn’t supportive…I was concerned that fewer would read and comment. Her point was simple…what difference did less viewers make if ANC was broke. I’m proud of her for making a tough decision and sticking to it. The quality of content is amazing.

  16. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I haven’t been much of a content contributor for months, save a recycled Christmas post, but I’ll weigh in as a contributor regardless.

    I didn’t do too much hand-wringing when the paywall kicked in. I figured Doni had little choice but to try it—when she said that under the status quo ANC would be permanently shuttered sooner rather than later, I assumed it wasn’t an empty threat. (I listened to a TED speaker on NPR the other day. The take-home message: Most successful people are willing to take small, calculated risks all the time. They don’t take if-I’m-wrong-we’re-dead risks, but they’re far from being risk-averse or risk-paralyzed.)

    I don’t really have any journalistic intent, so I didn’t worry about reduced “post views,” either. When I write, it’s usually (1) to exorcise whatever demons are dogging my heels me at the moment, and (2) to entertain myself, hopefully others, and generate some discussion in the comments. With the latter in mind, I DID fret a little about comments and worried that I might write my next post and…you know…if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? (The correct answer: It makes pressure waves in the air. Sound is experiential, so if nobody hears it, no, it makes no sound. If a single bird hears it, it made a sound.)

    As with others, I didn’t despair that a couple of the regular commenters refuse to pony up. I enjoy a frisky debate (in case you’d never noticed), but some people are just angry dumb jerks, and it turns out they tend to be cheapskates as well.

    • R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

      I for one would totally appreciate more stinging critiques from Steven Towers!

    • Steve, can I tell you a secret, if you promise to not let it scare you away? (I’m hoping for a yes.)

      Because of the quality, volume and whip-smartness of your comments, for some time now I’ve thought of you as a de facto ANC columnist; whose work just happens to appear in the comments section. (Except when you submit something, and it HAS been a while, come to think of it … and you’re missed.)

      Perhaps it’s jinxing things to say this, but if you ceased commenting, ANC wouldn’t be the same, and I mean that in a negative way.

      Because of the quality of ANC’s content, we have quality (mostly) commenters and subscribers, like you. And now that the paywall requires all commenters be subscribers, it’s eliminated some of the biggest punch bowl turds. I do not miss them.

      Steve, I hope you will be with us for a long time, both as a frequent commenter, an occasional author and an ongoing subscriber. Thank you for hanging in there with us, and for all you bring to ANC in the way of support. I appreciate you so very much.

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        Ditto and amen. Steve’s comments are one of the highlights of ANC. If he falls on hard times, I’ll pay the $5 subscription just to keep his funny, acerbic, thought-provoking, credible, well-stated comments coming, most of which I agree with.

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:

      Steve, I have followed your comments over the years (and those of your various noms de plume) on the RS, ANC, Mark Beauchamp’s blog, and on Yelp and have invariably found them to be informative and entertaining. I would happily pay $20.00 to see you and another favorite fact-based commenter, Tim, engage in animated and substantive debate. You both have exceptional skill in presentation—your’s being more passionate, Tim’s being more clinical—and both of you are intellectually stimulating. Gee, could be a fund raiser for ANC.

  17. Avatar Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    The fact that your paywall has saved the site is unusual, a lot of pay sites don’t succeed. One can assume that it has to be the quality of the stories that make that so. The lack of local news gives the ANC a special niche in my daily routine/

    • Mr. Scheide, you’re correct about the quality of ANC’s stories, and I hope you are proud to know that your son has carved his own niche here as an invaluable, respected and treasured part of ANC.

  18. Avatar James Montgomery says:

    Well, how about that! I find myself in total agreement with R.V. Scheide! That doesn’t happen often, but I sure agree with this. With the exception of KRCR, ANC is the only reliable source of local news, and community involvement.
    The elder Mr. Scheide makes an important point; the mass media, including print media, are almost entirely controlled by the corporate conglomerate. They have become essentially a propaganda machine. The Record Searchlight (aka USA Today) sometimes carries important local news, but is largely focused on promulgating their politically correct urbanist doctrine.
    So, let me add my thanks to those above, Doni. Great job.