Forty years ago, we started the Arkansas Times out of a little railroad house on 2nd Street with a couple of hundred dollars. I told potential staff members that if they wanted to live indoors, they would need to have a night job because it would be years before we could pay them a salary.
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From our improbable beginnings in 1974, the Times has always shown a survivor’s talent for adaptation. We were a glossy magazine for 17 years, but when the state’s progressive voice — the Arkansas Gazette — went under in 1991, we responded by converting to a weekly paper and hiring much of the Gazette’s senior editorial staff. When we started the Arkansas Blog in 2004, we were one of the first newspapers in the state to get serious about the web.
In recent years, we’ve evolved into daily news website with a weekly print edition. Our four blogs put out dozens of news and cultural stories every day. Our six-person editorial staff devotes nearly 70 percent of its time to producing daily news for the web. When news that matters breaks, we cover it as it happens, no matter the time of day.
Ten years ago, we subsisted entirely on advertising. But like most print publications, we’ve lost advertisers to the web, where five companies — AOL, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo — get 64 percent of all money spent on digital advertising. While we’ve largely been more successful in selling web and print advertising than our peers, we’ll likely never make up print losses with web advertising dollars.
Newspapers across the country are shriveling up and dying. Yet even in these challenging times, among our peers who publish similar weeklies and websites across the country, we spend almost double the norm on our editorial budget. Why? Because I believe Arkansas needs a strong progressive voice.
We can’t continue to produce aggressive, trenchant, independent reporting and analysis without increased reader support. A new model for funding, in which readers bear a share of our costs, is vital to the future of the Times.
That’s why, on Aug. 1, Arkansas Times will introduce a digital membership plan. Access to our daily content — on four blogs, the Arkansas Blog, Eat Arkansas, Eye Candy and Rock Candy — will be metered. All readers will receive 10 blog views per month for free, after which only members who pay $9.99 per month or $110 per year will have access. Access to the rest of the site — the calendar, dining listings and what appears in the print edition of the Times — will continue to be free.
We follow many other respected media in adapting to changes in our business with a digital membership, from the New York Times to many Arkansas newspapers. We take a page, too, from the much-lauded Texas Tribune, which has become an online political news source solely from reader and charitable contributions.
I hope you value the voice of the Arkansas Times in the public life of Arkansas and that you’ll view your membership as an investment in strong, independent journalism. In addition to unlimited online access, membership will bring added value as well.
Members will receive monthly discount offers from local businesses that support the Arkansas Times. The first premiums come from the likes of Hillcrest Artisan Meats, The Italian Kitchen, Krebs Bros. Kitchen Supplies, Maduro Cigar Bar & Lounge, Snap Fitness and UCA Public Appearances.
Members will also be invited to monthly cocktail gatherings, often tied to special events such as concerts and lectures. There, members will have a chance to meet other readers and Times contributors.
Finally, members will have first shot at tickets to our ever-increasing lineup of events. This year, they’ve included a Farm-to-Table Dinner, a Heritage Hog Roast and a Wine Festival. We take group tours every year to the King Biscuit Blues Festival and the Johnny Cash Music Festival, and have begun group tours to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. In September, we’ll host our second annual Festival of Ideas. In November, we’ll reprise our popular Craft Beer Festival in Argenta.
If you believe the Arkansas Times represents a unique voice in the state, I hope you’ll become a digital member and invest in our continuing work. We believe in our mission to give voice to the voiceless, speak truth to power and advocate tolerance and equality. I hope you will show your support by joining us now.
Thanks for reading,
Publisher, Arkansas Times
UPDATE: In response to questions, we’ve put together a frequently asked questions page.