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It’s time to pass the torch: Harvard Press seeks new stewards

For a decade and a half, we have been immersed in publishing the Harvard Press and have worked almost daily to maintain the original vision of providing Harvard with a locally owned, independent newspaper. We have striven to foster dialogue and promote civic engagement essential to democracy and vibrant community life, while upholding the highest standards of journalism. The overwhelming response by our readers and advertisers has been a welcome affirmation.

In taking our next steps to bring in new ownership, there is much to do, including an explanation of “why now?” and how we will proceed.

Our late publisher, fellow founder, and co-owner, Worth Robbins, made succession planning a priority in recent years. Our goal has been to see the Press transition to a new generation of ownership, one that is local and independent and committed to not just preserving, but to advancing our mission. It’s now time that we act on such a succession plan in seeking new leaders to take over the 15-year-old Harvard Press.

We understand the potential pitfalls in any sale, and our objective is to leave the Press in good hands. We will work with new ownership to make the transition successful and position the Press for a strong future. We’ve worked hard to serve the community and produce a paper that we are proud to publish each week. To do anything less is unthinkable. This is our community too, and we’re highly motivated because we’ve seen how it can go wrong.

Our founding, in fact, stems from what happened when, in the early 2000s, Harvard’s former paper, The Harvard Post, was sold to a newspaper conglomerate and ultimately changed beyond recognition. Advertising no longer reflected local businesses, and weekly news coverage shrank to only a few articles about Harvard, with everything else being regional. So in late 2006, Aciukewicz, Worth Robbins, Laura Andrews, and Julie Moberly decided it was time to bring a high-quality, locally owned paper back to Harvard. The team reached out to friends and acquaintances to seek funding for the project, and along with Sue Robbins and significant “angel funding,” launched The Harvard Press in November 2006.

As with many local weeklies, the Press has struggled financially. Despite having an exceptionally high rate of subscription support (nearly two-thirds of Harvard households), the bulk of the paper’s income comes from advertising. In 2017 two programs were initiated to shore up Press finances: “sustaining advertising,” where advertisers commit to a monetary pledge each fiscal quarter, and “sustaining subscriptions,” where subscribers pay above the normal subscription rate. Both these programs have helped keep the paper afloat.

The quality of the Press has never been better, thanks to our dedicated editors and reporters. In 2020, the paper was named “Citizen of Note” by Harvard’s Select Board. The paper has also won awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association for its reporting and photography.

Worth Robbins often spoke about how satisfying it was to work at a startup and turn it into a valued community resource. His energy for finding financial solutions to keep the paper in production was unparalleled and driven by a desire to keep Harvard well informed. In recent years, however, both Worth and Sue had begun to think about retirement. While maintaining co-ownership, Aciukewicz stepped down from her day-to-day role of chief photographer and layout person in 2019 to pursue other opportunities. However, when one of her successors had to temporarily leave work in 2020, she returned to the newsroom.

Having lost our local news once, we know what a loss it is to a community. Newspapers provide an important check on local government and a positive arena for a community to connect. In addition to being informative and entertaining, local newspapers, according to researchers, serve two important community functions: They provide oversight of local government and spending, and they help prevent political polarization.

We want the paper to remain locally and independently owned. We will not sell the Press to a conglomerate that will strip the paper of its focus on local news. And we are committed to finding a creative solution to help potential buyers achieve an equitable path to ownership—be it community ownership, conversion to a nonprofit, or another model entirely.

We are seeking owners who appreciate the community of Harvard and the value of independent journalism. We would hope the new owners would have passion and enthusiasm for our product, an understanding of the time commitment it entails, and the ability to be a sound, objective voice attuned to the issues and challenges the town faces.

The Press has continued a proud legacy of local journalism in Harvard. It is a unique reflection of the town—created in Harvard, by those who care for and are invested in Harvard. As the town evolves and grows, so too should the Press. It matters less the specific form it takes, or what it feels like in your hands, than that it continue to chronicle Harvard’s history and shape the discussion of its future with independence and integrity.

Interested? For further information, write to co-owners Lisa Aciukewicz and Sue Robbins at publisher@harvardpress.net.

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