A People-Powered Community Press Model From Tioga County, PA
FREEDOM ESSAY- William Raymond Collier JR- Nestled firmly in mountain valleys, Tioga County PA is the center of what is called “the Twin Tiers”, a highly mountainous and verdant region on the borders of New York’s Southern Tier and Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier. Sleepy, mostly rural, but with some towns, and not often the source of national news, the Twin Tiers and Tioga County PA in particular are home to what may very well be a new model for a truly free and independent press. In short, the region may not “make the news” often but it is actually remaking the way news will be done in the whole nation through a new model for news reporting and dissemination that is profitable.
The new model is being tried, tested, and refined through a local and now regional digital newspaper with a print edition in Tioga County as the starting point. Within 2 years of its launch, the Tioga Freedomist has achieved remarkable market penetration.
In its immediate coverage area of around 200,000 people, the heart of the Twin Tiers, this relatively new media entity reaches over 65,000 readers through print, social media, and its main website, Tiogafreedomist.com. What is more, of those 65,000 plus regional readers, 30,000 come from Tioga County PA alone, which has a total population of 46,000. This means that this new publication has a regional market penetration of around 32.5% and a local market penetration of around 65%.
How has this degree of market penetration been achieved in only two years?
The phrase “your people powered community press- free and independent” sums up the basic model. The newspaper relies on actual reader participation in the news gathering process, teaching readers basic rules and methods of journalism along the way; it uses a Watchdog, Advocate, and Resource model (or “WAR” for short) for determining news content; and it remains focused on being free and independent with a special focus on the original spirit and intent of the Bill of Rights (which we believe all press SHOULD focus on objectively and fairly).
People want news that has this balance (Watchdog, Advocacy, and Resource news). They want to be empowered to participate in news gathering and reporting. They want news that is fair and freedom focused (remembering that “free” is the first ethical imperative of the “free press”), and they want news that is written in the language of real people instead of the cold “emotionless” language of the old media establishment.
While the Tioga Freedomist has its own unique editorial leanings, it welcomes, and receives, all views across the political spectrum- this empowerment of readers to advocate for their views and convictions is a vital part of the “community press” mission.
The numbers prove the point. More and more local and regional readers are coming to the Tioga Freedomist not only to get news but to participate actively. Readers lead many stories and are often the best or only sources of accurate information. Readers use this platform to help one another- hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds or direct aide have been raised by readers using the Tioga Freedomist to rally supporters. It is not unusual, for instance, for a story on a fire to be followed with an appeal for donations to help the people involved. This appeal, usually posted by a reader, is then promoted through the newspaper’s resources to reach its large audience.
Of course, advertisers use this platform to reach potential customers and as the “secret” of this newspaper’s market penetration gets out more and more local businesses are shifting their advertising budgets to include this newspaper’s print, social media, and website advertising options. For funding, the Tioga Freedomist depends on earning advertising dollars, using nothing but free market principles.
The parent company, Kross Publishing, which also owns this national digital newspaper and many other properties, has invested in building the local and regional audience in order to earn advertising revenue. The ability to invest during the first two years while the newspaper was gaining advertising revenue as a result of growing in market share has made the current success possible.
This model of a people-powered community press that is free and independent is the future of local journalism. The need for accurate news that includes Watchdog, Advocacy, and Resource reporting and coverage has not gone away. What has changed are three key things- the delivery (a combination of social media, print, and websites), the style of writing (lose the emotionless “AP style” and don’t just push YOUR views- be inclusive), and the process (reader participation leads, not the agenda of editors or owners).
A community press must be “owned” by its readers. If readers truly own it, advertisers who want to reach those readers must follow, and thereby profit is not merely possible but inevitable.
Welcome to the new model for community based journalism- a people powered free press that is free and independent to its core.