When Flagpole got started in October 1987, The Observer was the dominant weekly. The Augusta-owned dailies—the Daily News in the morning and the Banner-Herald in the afternoon—were the papers of record, and they sucked up most of the advertising. The internet had not yet impinged on the newspaper business.
Flagpole was a typical shoestring startup: lots of talented young people willing to work long hours for low or no pay, rewarded by seeing their stories, pictures, cartoons, designs and ads in print. (Thanks to the Digital Library of Georgia, you can see them in our archives.)
One reason Flagpole stuck was that those who worked on it were rooted in the Athens they covered; they were building alternative Athens, even as they wrote about it.
Another reason Flagpole hung around was that it was locally owned. No big, out-of-town corporation would have started a weekly newspaper on a low budget, nor would they have stayed with it if it weren’t a cash cow.
Thirty-one years later, the Observer is gone, the Daily News is gone, and the Banner-Herald is owned by a different out-of-town corporation. More ominously, many of the great alternative weeklies that were models for Flagpole are gone, too, including the Village Voice in New York, the Phoenix and the Real Paper in Boston, the Washington City Paper and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Creative Loafing has gone monthly in Atlanta and in Charlotte.
We’re all familiar with the reasons for the decline of print journalism, and they boil down to the impact of the internet: People now get a lot of their information and their advertising online. So far, Flagpole has been able to buck that trend because we’re in a university town that also harbors a large population of people who like to hold their paper in their hands, even though they also look at it online.
It’s just as difficult to imagine Flagpole without Athens as it is to imagine Athens without Flagpole. Flagpole has become an Athens institution—the go-to source for news of local government, music, art, movies, theater, food, drink, kids, politics, schools, even football, and our comprehensive calendar of events that keeps everybody up to date with what’s happening in our town.
People frequently ask, “How’s Flagpole doing?” We usually respond, “Doing OK.” Perhaps it’s time for us to say a little more about what we mean by “OK.” And the first thing to say is that our local advertisers make Flagpole possible. Their ads that you see in Flagpole provide the financial support that keeps Flagpole here. We have a symbiotic relationship, because advertising in Flagpole pays off for our advertisers, too.
In recent years, advertising has remained static, even declined a little, while expenses push upward. We have not responded, as many newspapers have done, by laying off staff. At the same time, we have not been able to give raises. We have cut expenses to the point that we’re running a pretty lean operation, and in order to make our lease with our new landlords work, we will begin renting out upstairs offices.
These are admittedly tough times for journalism. Flagpole has always had to scramble, and we still do. In casting about for ways to sustain and improve Flagpole, we realize that we have been overlooking a potential partner: you, our readers. Who has more interest in a strong and vibrant Flagpole than you? Sure, we bring Flagpole to you free, in the paper and online, but why not make it possible for you to partner with us to sustain strong, independent journalism in Athens? We know you understand the importance to Athens of Flagpole’s independent journalism. We know you appreciate having your locally owned paper that understands Athens and has as much of a stake in our town as you do. It makes sense that you may want a way to help support Flagpole financially.
Though our profits are slim, we are not a nonprofit, so your contributions will not be tax-deductible. They will just be a hometown response to the pressures that threaten community journalism.
We’re working on a system of membership perks for financial underwriters—stickers, tickets, newsletter, etc. If you want to go ahead and join in now, just click here, and use PayPal or your credit card. It’s quick and easy. When we get the underwriter categories set up, we’ll add you in. Thanks!