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A News Cafe is Sweet 16; Looking for Love in all the Right Places

Cartoon by Phil Fountain.

Please don’t skip this post. It’s important.

It’s been one year since my promise to limit any requests for financial support to this singular annual event, timed to happen right around A News Cafe’s birthday. No relentlessly annoying, gauche pleas for money over and over and over again, day in and day out. Nope. Here at ANC we do this just once a year. That’s it.

A News Cafe turned 16 in November. Look at us! And to think that some (many) said it wouldn’t last.

It’s not in my nature to brag, or to beg readers to become monthly subscribers.

However, it is in my nature — and in my heart — to trust that readers who value A News Cafe’s original, independent journalism are smart enough to know that it takes money to operate this site, and they’re conscientious enough to pitch in to help support a service they receive for free; a service that’s expensive to produce.

Shasta Community College is the site’s major advertiser, and for that, I couldn’t be more proud or grateful. The Shasta Community College marketing folks are smart: They know that ANC receives more than 100,000 unique monthly views, which means tens of thousands of eyes on their ads.

Many years ago I abandoned the traditional newspaper advertising model after we lost three major advertisers and A News Cafe nearly died. I figured a paywall was our last-ditch salvation. I tried it. I hated it. You hated it. We all hated it. I’ve always believed a free press should be free. So I abandoned the paywall, ate some humble pie, and went to you, hat in hand. I confessed ANC’s dire financial straits, and floated the concept of voluntary paid subscriptions.

Many of you stepped up and subscribed. Bless you all! The majority of you now contribute between $1.35 to $5 a month. A minority of select readers give even more, which never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes, it brings me to tears.

As delighted and awestruck I am with larger donations, we value every contribution, no matter how small. Through the years, more paid subscribers has meant more income, which has enabled me to increase reporters’ pay, and to pay people who were former volunteers.

Even so, ANC’s pay is still embarrassingly low, especially if you consider that writers and journalists are paid for a completed story, but not paid extra for sometimes weeks’ worth of research, or sitting through meetings that can last as long as eight hours, all for one story.

In my dreams I adequately compensate ANC’s paid staff. Someday. I hope.

We know that roughly 1 percent of our readers are voluntary paid subscribers. I often fixate on this fact: If even a quarter of our readers paid $1.35 a month, A News Cafe could afford to pay our entire talented team living wages. We could hire more reporters, photographers, and even luxury positions, like a secretary and a tech team. Without a full support staff, I — A News Cafe’s publisher and head journalist — wear other hats in addition to regular reporter duties. I also am responsible for payroll, and paying the bills. I place ads, write (often tardy) thank-you notes, create invoices, and answer phone calls regarding everything from tips to complaints.

The truth is, aside from Shasta Community College, that dedicated 1 percent of A News Cafe’s most loyal, demonstrative readers fully support this site.

Phil Fountain’s delightful cartoon features 16 names on 16 records. Sixteen team members at one small online news magazine is a very big deal. The number of trained journalism professionals on A News Cafe’s editorial staff rivals the numbers at many corporate media companies.

Speaking of our staff, I thought you’d like to put faces to the names of A News Cafe’s regular contributors. (Not shown are occasional freelance workers.)

Thinking about today’s column, at first I thought I’d add up all the stories we’ve posted since our last birthday, and then dazzle you with that high number. I thought I’d list all the California News Publishers Association contests we won in 2023. I thought I’d impress you with a list of the dozens of times in the last 12 months that media from literally around the world have interviewed ANC reporters, or quoted excerpts of our stories, or inserted ANC hyperlinks in their reporting. I thought I‘d list all our accomplishments from the previous year.

I didn’t do any of those things. If you’re a regular reader, then you already know what we’re about: Locally owned and locally produced independent journalism. We’re not corporate. We aren’t owned by Google or any other conglomerate that comes with hoops or strings attached.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that we’re tenacious and brave, even in the face of threats, and, in the case of a July meeting where I was assaulted by a man named Mark Kent who didn’t want me there, you know that sometimes our work puts us in harm’s way.

We keep going, and keep reporting, no matter what. We show up. We investigate. We dig. We follow up. We vet tips and informants. We maintain confidential sources. We endure hours of mind-numbing meetings and stupefying podcasts. We painstakingly comb over hour upon hour of audio and video footage — including disturbing content — so we can isolate and publish them in our stories.

We do all these things, and many other related tasks, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

And so here we are. News Cafe has been going strong with a talented team of good people for 16 years. Sixteen years. I can scarcely believe it.

I’m often asked how much longer I’ll continue with A News Cafe. No pressure, but in large part, how long A News Cafe lasts depends a lot upon you, and the amount of support we receive; or don’t.

A News Cafe is not a hobby. It’s a more-than-full-time, full-fledged, award-winning media company with dedicated team members who give their all. A 40-hour work week? I wish! It’s not unusual for some of us to routinely stay up all night (like now) to ensure we publish our work the next day, or so we can do more research and fact-checking. Many of us are unclear of the concept of TGIF, because our hours are dictated by deadlines, and deadlines are oblivious to weekends, bedtimes, sick days, vacations or holidays.

As my dearly departed mother used to say, nobody likes a whiner. Truly, I’m not whining. But I am trying to impart a sense of urgency about what it takes to keep A News Cafe operating.

To be blunt, we need you. We cannot survive or continue our work without you. Really, we’re not asking for a lot, and from some of you, we ask for nothing. We understand that some of our dearest, regular readers cannot afford even $1.35 a month, and we get it.

However, we also know that many regular readers can afford to become monthly subscribers, but for some reason, they haven’t. Seriously, why not?

We’re keenly aware that we’re popular in many circles, and that we’re followed by a collection of the North State’s most successful movers, shakers and influencers. I often run into them in public, and hear their praises and glowing (albeit whispered) words of appreciation for ANC’s work. They often tell me to keep it up, go get the bastards, don’t let the haters win, and keep digging.

Sometimes well-meaning people will admit they’ve read ANC since its inception, and gosh darn it, they’ve been meaning for years to drop a check in the mail to ANC, but it always slips their mind. Years.

Times like that, I feel like screaming. Or weeping. Or both.

Just the other day someone emailed me to say I might be surprised to learn that a certain bigwig was a huge ANC fan who never misses a single story. Yes, as a matter of fact, I was surprised, and quite pleased. But my elation was short-lived, replaced with sadness.

The good news is that bigwig is a dedicated, enthusiastic reader. The bad news is he’s not a financial supporter of ANC. I know he has the financial means to contribute. If he wanted to.

These are disheartening conversations to realize that many of ANC’s most effusive, fawning fans have never contributed a single penny of support to A News Cafe. I just don’t get it. Maybe they’re afraid that I’ll tell the world they’re an ANC subscriber, something I’d never do.

I don’t want to be a Doni Downer. I appreciate and applaud you incredible people who’ve supported A News Cafe for 16 years, through the good times, lean times, and here in the middle of of some of Shasta County’s scariest times, when we need independent journalism now more than ever. To you financial supporters, I am grateful beyond words. A million thanks to every one of you awesome, generous, honorable people.

I confess, although I’m a writer, I freeze up when it comes to finding just the right words to convince and inspire those of you who are not subscribers. How can I convert you from ardent readers to proud supporters?

After all, we’ve made giving easy. Just click here to see your options. You can become a monthly subscriber at any amount that won’t break your bank. Or you can send a check the old-fashioned way to: A News Cafe, P.O. Box 990644, Redding, CA 96099.

Or, forget about giving. No worries. Just continue reading and enjoying A News Cafe’s free content. Let’s hope that the 1 percent — the generous, dependable readers — will continue their mission to keep A News Cafe alive, and that that our shoestring media operation holds up.

Today, as we celebrate A News Cafe’s 16th birthday, I offer this challenge to those who claim they love this site (or hate it, but love to read it) but have left it up to others to support us: Give to A News Cafe as if it would literally die without you. Would you miss us if we closed this site? No threat. Just something to ponder.

Please give as if you believe our work and our people are important enough to be compensated and encouraged.

One more thing before you go: Please leave your opinions, observations and suggestions about ANC in the comments section. What do you like or dislike? What would you like to see more or less of in 2024? I look forward to reading your responses.

That’s all. Carry on. I promise I won’t bring this up again.

Until next year.

If you are delighted that A News Cafe publisher and journalist Doni Chamberlain only asks for financial support once a year, click here to contribute. If you believe A News Cafe provides a valuable community service, then click here to contribute. If you have ever been moved, inspired or informed by A News Cafe’s stories, videos, cartoons and photography, click here to contribute. Thank you.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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