You are not going to believe this, so sit down. Take a few breaths. Here goes: Nashville is about to get...another newspaper.
Whaat? That's right: Amongst all the hand-wringing about the dire future of print media, let alone the death-spiraling economy, someone is actually about to launch a stubbornly old-media, printed-on-dead-trees biweekly newspaper called the Nashville Free Press, starting as soon as Jan. 15.
The founders are publisher Ginny Welsch, a community activist and former contender for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper's seat, and editor Paul Erland, whose former Middle Tennessee publication The One Paper is something of a model for the Free Press. The progressive-leaning paper will partner with Radio Free Nashville, the Pegram-based low-power community radio station Welsch co-founded and got on the air in 2005.
Why start a newspaper now when chains are slashing their staffs both locally and nationally, and ad revenues online are expanding while print is shrinking? The answer lies in this manifesto on a Nashville Free Press email announcement:
The corporate dominance of local markets like Nashville by companies like Gannett and Village Voice has subdued the debate, silenced conflicting voices, shuttered the unfettered marketplace of ideas, and steered the ship of state into dangerous and narrow straits. Robust competition and ownership diversity are more essential than ever to the economic health, vitality and viability of our community....
The monopoly of the media marketplace has led to less in-depth reporting on politics and elections, the environment, minority and labor affairs, education, government malfeasance, assaults on civil liberties and civil rights, and a score of other subjects. As a result, the identity, values and informational needs of our local community are at risk.
To meet his mission, Erland says the Free Press will have no salaried staff, though he hopes that will change as backers come on board. He's even editing without pay. Content will come from what Erland jokingly calls "cheap labor"--mostly the staff of Radio Free Nashville, whose hosts include community journalists such as co-founder Greg Welsch, Ginny's brother.
As for sales staff, the paper's writers can buy a page--roughly $100, which Erland says would cover printing costs of that page for 5,000 copies--and sell as much as half of it to advertisers, hopefully at a profit. Erland admits that "a lot of creative people aren't entrepreneurial, and vice versa," but he hopes for a model such as a theater reviewer buying a page, writing a review on half, and selling ads on the other half to make some money.
Of course, there's a reason papers typically maintain a wall between edit and sales, for the integrity (and sanity) of everyone involved. But for now, the prospect of new, additional journalistic voices at a time when all is woe is an unexpected holiday gift. Especially these days, as the Nashville Free Press' editor agrees.
"This maybe the absolute worst time in history to start a newspaper," Erland says.
"Or the best," the caller replies.
Erland just laughs.