In 1973, a locally owned independent weekly newspaper, the Harvard Post, was started by Kathleen Cushman and Ed Miller (authors of How to Produce a Small Newspaper, Harvard Common Press, 1978) with a goal of “bringing the community together while reflecting the individualism that makes Harvard so special.” In the ensuing years, the Post became part of Harvard’s landscape, providing in-depth coverage of local news, current events, and club calendars, as well as being a forum for the community to discuss issues important to the life of the town.
In 2003, the Post was sold to Community Newspaper Company (CNC), a regional newspaper group. For a while, CNC kept the operation unchanged, with local reporting, editing, and advertising, but things quickly changed. The physical size was changed to the larger broadsheet format, advertising became regional, and most operations were moved to offices away from Harvard. It stopped being a local paper, by and for Harvard residents.
The Harvard Press was born when four Harvard residents (Laura Andrews, Julie Moberly, Lisa Aciukewicz, and Worth Robbins) decided to band together to produce a high-quality, locally owned newspaper, like the town once had. In early October 2006, we put finishing touches on a rudimentary business plan with assumptions about subscriptions and advertising (the two sources of revenue for any newspaper), and cost estimates for equipment, printing, and distribution. We would operate initially in the home of one of the partners, and we would use computers we already owned, so start-up costs were limited to a layout workstation, a server, layout software, business and libel insurance, and supplies. The owners/partners would take token compensation for the first year. The business plan projected a first-year deficit in the range of $50,000 to $100,000; we would need financial help to make it happen.
We decided not to organize as a nonprofit, because of inherent constraints. We wanted the paper to be fully independent, free to engage with the town without restriction; therefore support contributions would not be tax-deductible, nor would they confer any special privileges or influence.
We expected it would take several months to attract contributions to enable us to get started, and initial plans called for a January 2007 launch. We were fortunate, however, to receive significant support from a small number of longtime residents, who shared our belief that Harvard needed a good local newspaper. Less than a week after we began looking for help, we had received commitments for enough money to begin, and we set November 17, 2006 as the target for the first issue—less than six weeks away!
We met the launch target, and published a 20-page first issue. During the remainder of 2006, our focus was on building the subscriber base. Sue Robbins, who shares Worth's ownership share, had developed the software used by the old Harvard Post to manage subscriptions and advertising. Using that experience, she developed the software the Press would use.
We distributed free to the entire town, via bulk mail permit, for the first two months. In every issue there was a subscription form to fill out, and we offered an extra month to all who subscribed by the end of 2006.
For the January 19 2007 issue, nine weeks after launching, we switched to subscription-based distribution under a USPS periodical permit, with 709 subscribers out of approximately 1,800 Harvard households.