It's been a difficult decade for news media.
The old model was simple: Businesses bought advertising, and newspapers used that ad money to pay reporters (and, for the longest time, to generate modest, if not skyrocketing, profits). But the online revolution pitched that model out the window.
Ad dollars have been moving online for years now, only to be gobbled up by corporate giants such as Facebook and Google with no ties, or responsibility, to any one community. So newsrooms enacted round after round of layoffs, and corporate buyouts left legacy media outlets in fewer and greedier hands. All that came at the expense of independent local coverage.
It's a perfect storm for destroying journalism.
While the New York Times and the Washington Post, with their national subscriber lists and multinational advertisers, seem to be doing OK, local journalism is in crisis. You've seen the endless cavalcade of newsroom cuts. You can feel how much weight the Orlando Sentinel has lost when you pick it up in the morning.
That said, I've never seen anything like the turmoil local media is experiencing right now, this year. An unprecedented public health crisis is grinding our economy to a halt, forcing advertisers to make difficult spending choices and forcing Orlando Weekly to press pause on the slate of events that helps fund our mission.
After 30 years serving this community, our paper needs to rethink how it operates, and I'm asking you to be a partner in that journey.
No, the Weekly isn't about to close its doors. We're still printing and distributing our free paper, and more readers than ever seek us out online, where we still have no paywall shutting them out from our reporting.
Even so, we're facing the same tough realities as other news organizations affected by this crisis. As the coronavirus shut down the city, we were forced to temporarily lay off 13 hard-working members of our staff. Once we weather the worst of this crisis, we'd love to rebuild our newsroom quickly and get back to providing you with local news from an alternative angle that you won't find anywhere else. But that won't be easy.
In these difficult times, our city needs deeper, more insightful, solutions-based journalism, not less. We know readers depend on our daily coverage of arts, music, food and entertainment, alongside the news coverage that seeks to keep our local leaders accountable.
It's especially important to us that everyone, regardless of income, can access our work. Orlando Weekly has been a free publication since its inception. Reporting the news and giving it away for free may be a utopian idea, but it's one we refuse to give up on.
Ultimately, however, journalism requires resources. That's where the Orlando Weekly Press Club comes in – and where we need your help. If you value our voice, vitality and mission – if you agree that Orlando needs independent journalism now more than ever – I invite you to make a secure contribution, much as you do to your local PBS or NPR outlet.
I know this request comes as other organizations reach out to fund worthy missions during this time of crisis. But we also know others in Central Florida share our view that independent local journalism is key to building a better city. Many of you will view this as an investment in the community we all love.
In exchange for your support, we'll offer access to special events, cool custom swag, a membership card and other perks to let you proudly proclaim that you're part of the club. Beyond that, you'll know your contribution helped sustain, and perhaps expand, a staff of scrappy, no-nonsense journalists dedicated to bettering our city.
Working together, let's keep Orlando Weekly free, local and fiercely independent for another 30 years.