Proclaiming “It’s a new day in Worcester,” we launched Worcester Sun on Aug. 9, 2015.
That day we began a bold experiment in local news. Some called it “audacious and risky.” We called it worthwhile.
We started by publishing only on Sundays. We didn’t cover breaking news. We engaged journalists, not “content creators.” We sought out professional copy editors, far too many of whom these days have the time to work with us despite a dramatic increase in media outlets.
We were driven to be the most thoughtful, most insightful media company in Worcester, turning down the volume on and eschewing the divisive nature of what digital media can become when left unattended.
Perhaps most audacious of all, we put a price on our journalism, $2 a week, and had no advertising on the website.
We asked people to join us in creating a sustainable media company based on the shared experiences of the community of Worcester.
We asked for monetary support not because of a high-minded ideal of purity, but because we have two decades of data that suggest the value of banner advertisements, a traditional form of digital advertising, will continue to decrease as more and more “content” is created. So begins a vicious cycle in which the sustainability of journalism mandates popularity rather than relevancy.
In a column in our inaugural edition, co-founder Fred Hurlbrink Jr. wrote: “We believe the best model for sustainable and authentically local journalism involves an invested readership. You, dear readers, are our shareholders.”
A wonderful thing started the day we began investing in Worcester. You returned the favor and started becoming invested in the Sun.
In our first month, an astonishing percentage of subscribers chose long-term options. Without our Free to Read section, which we debuted in November, this meant a vast majority of people signed up long term before they could read a single story. That trend, which continues to this day, heartened us and told us we were on to something.
In the early days of the Sun, we broke with current newspaper convention to introduce two serial stories. We did it because we feel it’s important to showcase and celebrate the humanity of the people who make up our community. In a single story, you get to see people. In a serial, you get to know them.
Our first serial was by a young mother determined to create a business to provide tutoring to low-income families. We are proud to say that Giselle Rivera-Flores is finding her way in the business world, prouder to say the she was recently named to the 2016-17 class of Leadership Worcester.
The second was by a man who arrived with his family as refugees from Gambia, where his life was in jeopardy because of his job as an investigative journalist. Augustine Kanjia recounts his journey for Sun readers. He, his wife and children reside in Worcester, where he works while continuing his college studies and writing for the Sun. His inaugural feature story about the good work at African Community Education appeared in June.
In November, we expanded to publish on Wednesdays. We took on a slightly newsier edge. We introduced our Free to Read section and welcomed two seasoned contributors to our roster, Chris Sinacola and editorial cartoonist David Hitch. Chris’s column appears each Sunday; David’s work appears in both editions.
With those changes and additions we started to look more like a newspaper readers had come to expect. Once again you responded. Our growth curve began to resemble a hockey stick as more people began following us on our journey.
All the while we continue to learn. Whether it’s looking at website data to try to understand what resonates with readers or getting out to a neighborhood watch meeting to hear your concerns, we try to never miss a chance to become better at our job and worthy of your time and financial support.
Our list of contributors has grown; they now have more than 400 years of combined newspaper experience. We’ve added new, younger contributors, too, and we’re proud to say we’re the most diverse news-gathering operation in Central Massachusetts by almost any measure.
We’ve come a long way in our first year. But we still have a long way to go.
We started this journey knowing it would take time to earn your trust and support. We gave ourselves three years to become Worcester’s choice for news.
We’re ahead of schedule in some areas, behind in others. We’ve learned this is normal for any startup.
We are not yet profitable. Our subscriber base is growing, but we need more. (We hope that will be the hardest sell you’ll ever hear from us.)
We will continue to expand and evolve in the coming weeks, months and years. We’ll do more things you expect a newspaper to do, and we’ll do some things very few do.
We’ll keep our promise to expand as our readerships grows. We’ll try to earn and keep your trust. And we’ll spend every dollar we can in Worcester.
Our motto at the start was “Local focus. Locally owned.” That has not changed. Neither has our mission to cover local people, local businesses and local causes the way we feel they deserve to be covered.
In our minds are the words Fred wrote in our inaugural edition: “We have not for one second forgotten that a local news organization is a public trust, and that in order for us to succeed, we must never take our readers or their community for granted.”
To our families, friends, advisors, vendors, sponsors, contributors and, most importantly, our readers, thank you for a great first year.