‘WHY BEING A CONSERVATIVE would I buy or advertise in a news paper that delivers the papers with a Clinton bumper sticker.” That’s the complete text of an email we received last week. The writer’s name is in the email. I don’t use it here only because I haven’t contacted him to confirm whether he wanted the comment published with his name, although I suspect he wouldn’t mind. It’s a reasonable question that deserves an answer.
To avoid any potential misunderstanding, the writer is referring to a vehicle used to deliver The Columbia Paper; we don’t deliver Clinton bumper stickers with our newspapers. But I did endorse Hillary Clinton for president in this space last fall and a van belonging to our deputy publisher but clearly marked with a Columbia Paper sign does have a small, remarkably tough Clinton campaign sticker still clinging to its rear bumper.
It makes me smile when I see that sticker. So when I read the email I got huffy and in my head I drafted an answer I felt sure would make the writer see the error of his ways for suggesting he might not want to buy our newspaper. I was prepared to lecture him about how he would only buy the paper if he wanted accurate, informed, fair, fact-based community news and information. My horse got higher and higher the more I thought about what to say. Boy, I was gonna make him give up thinking of himself as a conservative.
Trouble is, I had avoided his challenge. Time to start over: we don’t know why people buy the newspaper. I’m glad they do and that our circulation–the total number of papers distributed–continues to grow. We can’t afford market research and depend instead on unsolicited feedback. Maybe it’s the news that attracts readers, but it could be the calendar or the community events or school releases or the ads or the religious service listings.
What we do know is that over 2,200 people read The Columbia Paper each week. About that many people read excerpts from the print edition online. The only way a consumer can know whether we have anything worth a dollar each week is to pick up a copy (or subscribe) and make that determination for himself. That’s consistent with conservative values.
Does the writer want me to assure him that the views of the bumper sticker don’t reflect the views of the newspaper? Even if I wanted to do that, no one should accept my word for it. He should determine our biases for himself.
But that could create a dilemma. What if he finds that our paper offers something he considers worthwhile? Then he has to weigh the value of paper against his political principles. If he buys The Columbia Paper he’s helping support one person–perhaps a whole enterprise–whose views he dislikes. So either he has to punish himself by refusing to read a publication he finds useful or he has to compromise his principles. That’s a difficult decision. And it isn’t limited to conservatives. The ability to resolve such dilemmas peacefully forms the basis for democratic society.
The part of his question that asks why he would want to advertise is more straightforward. This newspaper is a capitalist venture. Some of our supporters have recommended that we function like public broadcasting and ask for contributions. It’s tempting, but there’s no small scale business model I’m aware of that proves public newspapering could survive. So we pursue the elusive goal of profitability by selling ads. Our customers won’t buy our ads unless the ads bring them business.
I believe the writer of that email is in business and I think we can talk directly on this point. You would advertise in our newspaper because it can help your business grow and the money you’ll get from our readers is as good as anybody else’s money. If you don’t accept this fundamental aspect of running a business, then we can’t help you.
If you base advertising decisions on a delivery vehicle bumper sticker, that’s up to you. But in that case it’s odd you would do that and call yourself a conservative. I would think a true conservative assumes the marketplace will determine which products and services will prosper and which will disappear. We function in that marketplace and if we can help you with advertising, we’d be happy to do it.