Daily Citizen reporter Jackie Rehwald interviews a subject at Victory Mission in Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

OPINION |

It’s been a phenomenal first year working in this news startup. I’m privileged to work with a really great group of colleagues, and to enjoy frequent talks with readers about everything from family recipes to kids’ promotions to the best way to navigate Springfield at rush hour (hint: Sunset). 

One of the things I love most about those reader conversations is that you don’t shy away from telling us what you think — and today, I’d like to respond to something I’ve heard from time to time over the past year: the idea that we should somehow make the news we publish “free.”

The myth of free news

Missouri State University President Clif Smart talks with Daily Citizen reporter Cory Matteson on Feb. 18, 2022, about the decision to lift mask requirements on campus as COVID restrictions eased. (Photo by David Stoeffler)

“Why shouldn’t news be free?” you say. “Isn’t that a noble idea? Shouldn’t news be passed from person to person without charge, so as to inform and educate the greatest number of people? Isn’t that the best way to make democracy stronger?” Well, yes — in theory, that’s a wonderful idea. But here’s the dirty little secret of publishing: news is never “free.” If you’re consuming content without paying for it, it was probably underwritten by an advertiser, or produced by people promoting a product, or written by a journalist who wasn’t paid a living wage for their work.

As the Daily Citizen’s chief development officer — the person charged with helping to make sure we have enough revenue to run this business — I am always interested in how other sites manage to create and sustain the news they publish. And, after talking to a lot of people in the nonprofit news business, I can tell you that every publisher that creates news charges in some way for it. 

If you’re a for-profit corporation, you charge a subscription fee. If you’re a nonprofit news outlet like us, you might solicit a donation, you might ask for a membership fee, or you might charge a subscription fee. You might do some of the above, or you might do all of the above.

Readers are supporting our journalists — and often the communities we write about

Rance Burger speaks with Sheriff Jim Arnott at Greene County Jail Dedication
Reporter Rance Burger speaks with Sheriff Jim Arnott at the Greene County Jail dedication. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

We charge a subscription fee for full access to our site because we believe news worth publishing is news worth paying for (my boss, CEO David Stoeffler, wrote eloquently about that topic here). But we also ask people to donate to the Daily Citizen because our mission goes beyond informing our community to being a catalyst for good—to trying to create positive change through our reporting. You might not notice that day to day, but over time, that adds up. 

I can’t tell you that Jackie Rehwald’s reporting on our unsheltered neighbors makes people donate to the Connecting Grounds, but I can tell you that people are more likely to donate to a cause they know a great deal about than a faceless organization that they don’t feel involved with. I can’t draw a direct line between Cory Matteson’s in-depth examinations of our public school system and greater parental involvement in education, but I do know an awful lot of parents who will be moved to pay attention to how their kids’ teachers are doing thanks to Cory’s reporting. 

Senator Eric Burlison and Daily Citizen reporter Jack McGee at the 3rd annual Priebe Strong run on October 22nd, 2022. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

I can’t prove that Rance Burger’s deep dives into our city government and Jack McGee’s in-depth profiles of local candidates made more people vote on Election Day, but I do know that our Springfield MO Voting Guide, which included a number of those stories, was accessed over and over on November 8. And so I know, in our first year of publishing, that we’ve made many small differences — including through Steve Pokin’s columns and Jeff Kessinger’s newsletters, which make me smile, laugh, or cry every day — and those small differences together make one big difference for our community.

Subscriptions are only part of the pie

We can make that difference because of the stories we publish, which are made possible by reader dollars. Most of the time, we call that a subscription, and it’s a fairly transactional relationship: we give you a product, and you give us money. But subscriptions don’t cover our entire budget. Nine reporters and editors, plus three support staff — all paying their rent or mortgage, and all putting food on the table — adds up to more than two-thirds of our approximately $1 million dollar budget every year, and subscriptions don’t come even close to covering that. So, if we want to continue bringing you news that makes a difference in your life, we have to ask you to contribute to our cause — just like you would contribute to Harmony House, or Convoy of Hope, or your PTA, or the religious organization you belong to.

The staff of the Springfield Daily Citizen on campus at Missouri State University on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

This month, we inaugurated NewsMatch, a collaborative fundraising movement we share with more than 300 other nonprofit news outlets around the U.S. Together, we’re raising money to make us all more sustainable, and to make it possible for us to continue to bring you the unbiased, in-depth news we think our readers deserve.

And here’s the ask: we need your help.

If you think what we do here is useful — if you read what we publish, and think, “Gosh, I’ve got to do something about that,” or “Wow, that made me think differently,” or, “Hey, that made me smile” — then help us do that for other people. Donate to the Springfield Daily Citizen. Your dollars will be matched by NewsMatch and by other donors, making them worth even more at a time when unbiased, independent coverage of local news is more important than ever.

If you read even just one story a month, I think you’ll agree that we’re worth smashing the idea that news should somehow be “free.” And if you don’t, please get in touch with me at jkamien@sgfcitizen.org. I’d like to hear your perspective.

Judi Kamien

Judi Kamien is the chief development officer of the Springfield Daily Citizen. She has 30 years experience in the field, and has managed teams from Manhattan to Montreal. Kamien grew up overseas; lived most of her adult life in New York; and moved with her family to Springfield, near where her mom was from, in 2017. More by Judi Kamien