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Publishers Corner: Making progress toward sustainability; challenges remain

For several years, the Press has been concerned about shrinking resources, both financial and human. We are happy to report, as we bring 2019 to a close, the outlook is somewhat improved. We still have a long way to go, but if the trends established in the past two years continue, and there are no new challenges, Harvard should continue to be served by an excellent local newspaper.

Our primary initiative has been the sustaining subscriber program, which was announced in September 2017 as a voluntary increase to $100 for an annual subscription, or $500 for five years. The first 50 sustainers signed up by January 2018, 18 at $500 or more. The 100th sustainer enrolled in April 2018, with 12 more $500 participants, and in March 2019, we passed the 200 threshold. This month, the total reached 272, and we now have 45 sustainers who have paid $500 to start.

In September this year, we launched an email campaign to both attract new sustainers and encourage existing sustainers to make annual renewal payments, even if their expiration date is in the future. At this time, three-fourths of the original 100 have renewed at least once, and of the 28 who have not, most had paid $500 initially, so they will have more opportunities to make renewal an annual habit.

Bottom line: The sustaining subscriber program is working. When we started, we calculated that if we could get to 400 sustainers renewing annually independent of subscription expiration date, and if advertising income remains consistent, there would be enough financial resources to continue Press operations indefinitely, and to consider growing to cover new beats, e.g. Devens, and climate change. We don’t want to just plan for business as usual. There will always be new challenges and new beats to tackle, and our readers will expect us to respond.

Now about those human resources …

We have been saying for a long time that we not only need to stabilize financial resources to ensure the future of the Press, but we also need to get serious about a succession plan. We formed a steering committee earlier this year to help us, and it was instrumental in refining the sustainer program and moving us to an annual budget cycle, but the issue of succession planning still exists.

Coincidentally, we were amused to read this week (https://bit.ly/34qxtJa) about a small-town paper in the panhandle of Alaska whose publisher is willing to sell his newspaper for $0, if he can only find “… a multi-talented professional who can ensure it a bright future.” We couldn’t have said it better. We are proud of what we created when, in 2006, four of us decided to start a new paper to replace what was lost when Harvard’s 30-year-old locally owned paper was sold to Community News Corporation. We have no intention of doing the same thing, but current owners and managers are all in our 70s, and much as we’d like to think we’ll live forever, it is irresponsible not to plan some handoffs.

We are open to ideas. It wouldn’t be surprising if the next editor, or the next business manager, or the next web manager, or the next ad designer, is reading this paper, or is known to someone reading this paper. Just as many readers have come forward as sustainers, it would be wonderful if some readers became recruiters or presented themselves as candidates. If you’re one of those people, or you know someone who might be, please let us hear from you.

And if you meant to make a sustainer payment to be counted in 2019, it’s not too late. Send it in, we’ll add a year to your subscription, and you’ll have met your 2019 commitment.

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