Retooling Journal's next 40 years

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

We were about six months into Wednesday Journal back in 1980 and the money we'd raised was running out. The check to the printer the previous week had bounced — not by much but it bounced — and now the printer wanted a certified check before he'd print the next issue.

That was a moment. And I remember thinking as a chastened 24-year-old, "This is the greatest job ever but, Dan, you don't have a God-given right to publish this newspaper. Figure it out. Make this work."

Back then the figuring it out was learning how to sell advertising. And we did. Lots of advertising. Lots of grassroots reporting. Lots of connections in all the neighborhoods we came to serve.

Here we are 39 years later and it is, once again, a moment.

And while selling advertising will remain vital to us, there is a whirlwind around independent community journalism all across America that threatens its future, threatens our future as the publishers of Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.

We don't have a God-given right to keep publishing and you don't have a right to expect a Breaking News Update in your e-mail or a print copy in your mailbox — not if we all just sit back and think of better days.

It is time to open the hood and rebuild the engine — possibly a bad metaphor as I've never rebuilt an engine, hardly opened the hood but you get the point. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's metaphor might be more apt, that sometimes change is like redesigning the airplane while you're flying it.

So that is what we are doing. Crafting a new business model that builds on our strengths, widens our base of local support beyond just advertising and opens the door to more reporters, more ways to tell our stories, more voices from the neighborhoods.

We start knowing that the work we do every day in all seven neighborhoods we cover is essential. Independent community journalism holds local governments to account. It connects neighbors. It is the credible source when social media goes haywire. It allows a community to debate and celebrate.

Now we need to add a new revenue stream to our mix of advertising and print subscribers. For that we have created a non-profit called Growing Community Media that will soon own these four publications and work diligently to broaden local partnerships and donations. Think of it as public radio without the pledge drives. (Though we will be persistent in asking for you to join in.)

We are turning to our supporters in these neighborhoods, individuals who grasp the importance of independent local journalism; readers, specifically our thousands of digital-only readers, who, when they think about it, know someone has to pay these reporters, photographers, and designers; and, more gradually, to local and national foundations, some of whom have suddenly begun to take very seriously the possibility that neighborhood journalism could vanish, leaving a hole in our democracy.

How can you help? Jump in with your active support. Talk up the importance of the Landmark or Review or Journal or Weekly News to neighbors. Critique our efforts. As we raise more money, what stories should we be telling? And what stories can you help us tell? Become a Digital Member with a one-time donation or a monthly donation. Brag about it after you donate. Saving independent community journalism is good work.

Non-profit journalism is the future of journalism. It is all around us and being supported by everyday people who know in their bones that life is all about community and that community needs active means to connect and grow. 

Here's how to donate: OakPark.com/donate.

Want to talk about other ways we can partner to grow community? Reach out directly to me: dhaley@wjinc.com.

Reader Comments

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Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 3:01 PM

For years I have enjoyed reading the WJ, especially Shrubtown. As an Oak Park resident, parent, business owner and volunteer in NFP organizations, I feel we are very well informed of local activity in our communities. Occasionally I feel it would be nice to get two perspectives on local controversies. Regardless of current political hostilities in Washington, we should be able to debate things locally as friends.

Jill Wagner  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 11:48 AM

Hi Mary Jo Pikul, I am trying to connect with you. Just called you with the number from your previous subscription, but it seems to have changed since we last talked. Feel free to call me (708) 613-3340 or click this link to our online subscription order form: https://paymentwizard.com/OrderForm.aspx?FormID=1336

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: September 12th, 2019 8:49 AM

Dear Mary, You will hear from Jill Wagner, our Reader Engagement leader, so that we can wrangle that subscription. Sorry our system didn't work for you. And Terry, and all others, never fear, you will hear from us again! And again! Thank you.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: September 12th, 2019 4:25 AM

Twice in the past I've tried subscribing to the print edition on my mobile phone and both times couldn't figure out how to did it- kept bouncing back to digital. Maybe I'm not the only one. Send me the how-to and I'll gladly subscribe.

Terri Lackey from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 11:29 PM

Remind us again in a week! I'm out of the country and on unsecured website.

Virginia Williams Uphues from Berwyn  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 9:58 PM

I live in a community without a local newspaper (Berwyn) and never know what's going on. The local communities you service are so lucky to have you. I gladly donate to support your work.

Marlene Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 5:52 PM

Happy to support the Wednesday Journal!

Sharon Phillips from Mount Pleasant  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 5:42 PM

Done and honored to do so. WJ sets the gold standard for community journalism and while we are no longer Oak Park residents it keeps me connected to a amazing community where I spent 42 years raising my family. So many great memories of being part of this newspaper's early history. Keep it going, Dan and team!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 5:08 PM

Done. Pleased to support the best weekly newspaper chain in Illinois. Agree or disagree.

Jessica Mackinnon from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 5:05 PM

Long live the Wednesday Journal! Made my contribution to help assure the publication's continued vitality.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: September 11th, 2019 3:45 PM

I just renewed my subscription, having let it lapse while being in the hospital some while back. I have lived in some elite suburbs in the Detroit and Cleveland areas, and this paper put efforts there to shame. There, the short and few letters are about thanking the Fire Department for saving one's cat from high up in a tree. Here, many lengthy letters of substance are allowed, as are long citizen-written Opinion Pieces. It's worth it just to keep the online version alive -- it's the best community bulletin board I've seen, with a wide range of views expressed. I know some very prominent people here, who use these resources inside-out, making postings and writing Op-Eds, yet who didn't subscribe. At my urging, one of them felt guilty and resubscribed a while back. The rest of you know who you are! Sign up, or the vital resource you lunch off of will vanish, with no fitting replacement. Haley's and Trainor's columns and editorials occasionally irritate the hell out of me, but on balance, the WJ is a vital Oak Park-River Forest institution. . I know how much print journalism readership has declined. In 1988, I ran the first political insert in a paper (other people were using flyers or full-page signature ads). In ran it in the Oak Leaves, which was then the dominant paper, and paid for 14,000 inserts, the subscription base. Today the WJ is the dominant paper, and has a circulation base of perhaps 6,000, including River Forest. The Wednesday Journal: As Karl Malden said, don't leave home without it.

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