Almost a year ago, the Delaware Independent launched with a mission: Bring quality local news coverage to southern Delaware, especially in areas that don’t get a lot of attention from other papers.
I think we met that goal, although you can judge for yourself. What we did not do was reach the goal of making the Independent self-sustaining through reader subscriptions.
The first article was full of hope, pointing to the urgent need for a new model for local journalism.
But now it’s time for a more difficult kind of article, one admitting defeat. The Independent is closing as of today.
A year, of course, is not really a fair test. It’s often said that a small business needs about three years to establish itself. So in a sense this is premature. But after a lot of thought, and evaluation of the rate the Independent is growing revenue and subscribers, financial considerations for my family and the toll from the demands of running a news site solo, I think closing is the right decision. It’s been a very difficult one.
I’ve wondered if I could have done more. What if I’d stood on street corners and passed out flyers? Learned to play the violin and sat in downtown Greenwood on my off hours, collecting tips to support the news? Done GoFundMe or spaghetti dinner fundraisers? Bought lottery tickets? I know I didn’t market the site perfectly, but a number of you did join the effort with enthusiasm, helping spread the word and signing up for subscriptions, and I’m proud of how far we took the Independent in a year.
While the Independent did not become a media empire, I don’t believe it was a failure.
For one thing, it showed that areas that have lost much of their news coverage still have intriguing and important stories to be told. Small communities, rural areas – these are full of interesting people doing interesting things.
And while the Independent is ending, the stories we’ve published over the past year have had their impact. These stories are full of local people who deserved to have their voices heard, and we heard them. Their stories might not have been told without this site.
The project also demonstrated a potential model for covering local news that I still believe holds a lot of promise. People don’t need to read every detail of what happened in a council meeting, or the entire saga of the electrical rate change in 4,000 words, but a well-focused paragraph or four can give them important information on these issues. Longer feature stories can focus on the complex issues and fascinating people that make up every community. And delivering all that in a subscription based email newsletter still seems like an intriguing idea.
While this one site is closing, there’s still a lot of hope for local news in the big picture. Yes, journalism continues to face huge challenges. For decades now, amid rounds of layoffs and cuts, publishers and reporters alike have been hoping that we’ve hit the bottom and started to rebound. It’s not clear if that’s finally the case or if the industry will plunge still lower. One of my takeaways from this experiment is that it is still very difficult in many cases to convince people to pay for news online.
But I see news outlets around the state working hard to continue their mission. One promising development is the Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which is combining journalism resources in the state in a two-year effort to investigate why our communities are becoming so divided, and how we can fix that. It’s an incredibly important and timely topic. This project was initiated by the Local Journalism Initiative, a nonprofit founded with an encouraging vision to bolster local news here.
The local news revival movement isn’t just happening in Delaware. Over these past months the Independent has been part of the Local Independent Online News (LION) association, representing more than 400 members across the country focused on local news. Many of these are veterans of the business and they’re being joined by new startups all the time. Some make it, and some don’t, but there’s still demand for local news and hardworking, conscientious people trying to fill that demand, and that brings me hope.
I’ve met many people over this past year in southern Delaware who think local news is important and want to see it succeed. There are a number of news outlets that, although they don’t reach every community, are still telling local stories. I encourage you to subscribe to these outlets and help them grow and expand their coverage.
To all of you who bought subscriptions, sent encouragement, put a bumper sticker on your car, forwarded emails to friends and generally supported the Independent, a simple “thank you” does not seem enough. You are the local news MVPs.
Even though the Independent is closing down, I’m going to leave the bumper sticker on my car and keep wearing my Delaware Independent T-shirts. They’re a great souvenir from this past year.
For now, the Delaware Independent website will remain online, and the stories will be available without a paywall.
I previously communicated with paying subscribers about the Independent’s closing, but I’ll repeat this again in case you missed those emails: Subscribers will get refunds, prorated for how much of their subscription term was left. I will begin sending those in the next few days. If you don’t get your refund or if you feel it was the wrong amount, or have any other questions, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This has been an incredible experience and I wouldn’t trade it for a year’s salary. The people I’ve met, the stories I’ve had the honor of telling, and the things I’ve learned have all made it worthwhile.
Looking back: Some of the stories we've told over the past year