Uptown newspaper raises money to prevent closure

Uptown Neighborhood News aims to raise $6,000

Credit: Michelle Bruch

Uptown Neighborhood News is fundraising to keep the paper in print.

The nine-year-old paper wants to raise $6,000 via rockethub.com by June 20. That’s enough money to cover two months of operation and buy time to find an additional ad rep, said Linda Todd, president of the East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO).

“It’s largely a matter of insufficient ad revenues to support the paper,” she said.

The ECCO board learned in April that if the paper can’t generate more revenue, the June issue could be its last, according to meeting minutes.

“Winter was long and slow and without a little help from you the Uptown Neighborhood News will close its doors this summer,” the paper posted on Facebook. “We’d really like to keep them open for that nice fall breeze on its way.”

Editor Jessica Van Gilder explained that the harsh winter was hard on small businesses, which in turn impacted ad revenue for the paper. In addition, she said, the paper’s longtime ad rep is phasing out of the business. Two strong ad reps should solve the financial difficulties, she said.

“The solution is very simple,” Van Gilder said. “There is no reason why this paper can’t run and continue to exist. … The issue is having feet on the ground to sell ads.”

The paper’s financial difficulties come one year after the closure of the Wedge Neighborhood News, which had been in operation since 1969.

Bruce Cochran, a staff member at Uptown Neighborhood News and former editor of the Wedge newspaper, explained several challenges that have faced both papers.

“These newspapers got their roots in neighborhood advocacy: citizens feeling like they wanted a say in how their communities were developed,” he said in an email, describing the newspaper board’s composition of area residents. “They were based on a community-advocacy model — a luxury by today’s standards. Now that they are struggling for economic survival, some of these community papers will have to consider what it will take to move to a business model in order to stay afloat.”

Cochran also cited growing advertising and news competition from digital and printed sources, as well as declining interest in objective journalism and printed newspapers.

“Asking younger readers to pick up a newspaper is about as easy as convincing them to buy a landline phone,” he said.

Cochran said another challenge is a local drop in homeownership, caused by the Great Recession and the movement toward urban living. He quoted “The Homeownership Gap,” a 2010 paper published by the New York Federal Reserve Bank:

“A drop in the homeownership rate may create a large set of residents who are less invested in the long-run outlook for their homes and communities — an outcome that could lead to lower levels of home maintenance and civic participation, as well as more short-sighted decisions in local affairs,” wrote Andrew Haughwout, Richard Peach and Joseph Tracy.

The increase in rental properties also makes delivery challenging at locked buildings, Cochran said.

Other neighborhood newspapers have come and gone as well. The Whittier Globe folded in 2006 after 30 years. Uptown Neighborhood News was originally founded to replace East Calhoun News, a publication that stopped in 2004 due to slow ad sales. Todd said East Calhoun News was completely volunteer-run, with an unpaid editor and just enough advertising to cover the cost of printing.

“That’s when CARAG stepped in, with the stipulation that it wouldn’t be able to financially support it,” Todd said.

Todd said the neighborhood associations will soon determine whether they can contribute to the fundraising campaign. The Uptown Neighborhood News’ board includes three members from East Calhoun and three members from the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG). The organizations financially support the paper by guaranteeing ad buys in each issue.

“The news business is hard at every level,” Todd said. “I’ll be very sad if some kind of solution can’t be found.”

The fundraising campaign had raised about 10 percent of funds in early June.

Van Gilder said Uptown Neighborhood News puts a microscope on its coverage area — the neighborhoods of CARAG, East Calhoun, East Isles and the Wedge — in a way no other paper can. 

“We’ll cross our fingers, and hope the community shows up here,” she said.

Find more info at rockethub.com.