The Beacon finishes its first year

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With any new venture, the first measure of success is survival. So, for the Rochester Beacon, today is a special day—we’ve made it to the finish line of our first year! Along the way we also met another of our modest, early goals: to publish new content each weekday. Since the Beacon launched last Oct. 18, we’ve posted more than 250 articles and features.

That’s not all we set out to achieve, of course. Our mission statement  set a high bar. While some parts of it expressed longer-term aspirations, we also laid out principles to guide us in our day-to-day work. So, the end of our first year is a good time to review how we’ve done.

Paul Ericson

Summed up in one sentence, here’s the Beacon’s mission: “To build a stronger Rochester by serving as a source of and forum for ideas and perspectives that are rooted in intellectual openness and drive informed public action.”

Or, as I wrote when we launched, we aim to publish responsible, high-quality journalism and foster open-minded conversation and debate about key social, economic and political issues facing our community.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve explored a broad spectrum of issues and topics—including education, economics, innovation, health care and science, arts and culture, government, politics, justice and public safety—through articles written by Beacon staffers and community contributors. 

Here are some examples that illustrate the diversity of Beacon content: Opinion Editor Kent Gardner’s piece on breaking the cycle of failure in the city schools  and Senior Writer Will Astor’s two-part article on teachers union chief Adam Urbanski; Managing Editor Smriti Jacob’s look at Rochester’s immigrant heritage and her first-person piece on the long road faced by legal immigrants; Senior Editor Sally Parker’s two-part examination of the Rochester Historical Society’s plight; Senior Editor Cathy Salibian’s in-depth look at Writers & Books’ next chapter; Mike Costanza’s profile of new Rochester police chief La’Ron Singletary; Contributing Editor Esther Arnold’s look at how artists are valued in the “City of the Arts”; Jim Howe’s article on fresh water as a competitive edge for our region; Mark Oney’s piece on why his Silicon Valley company chose to expand in Rochester; and Peter Lovenheim’s deeply researched examination of the petition drive to keep 85-year-old confessed murderer James Moore in prison .

Peter, who joined the Beacon early in the year as our Washington correspondent (he divides his time between Rochester and D.C.), has written a couple of our most-read stories. One was a tribute to his sister, Jane Glazer, on the fifth anniversary of her death; his piece on Rochester’s connection to the Impossible Burger was another.

The most-read list in our first year reflects the wide-ranging interests of our readers. It includes Publisher Alex Zapesochny’s analysis of what a Gannett-GateHouse merger would mean; two stories—one by Alex and another by Will Astor—on previously unreported aspects of the Bob Morgan saga; and “To STEM or not to STEM? That is not the question,” written by RIT president David Munson and James Winebrake, dean of RIT’s College of Liberal Arts.

To spur discussion and debate on important issues, we’ve also held live events. The Rochester Beacon 2019 Economic Forecast Forum  in January drew 150 people to the College at Brockport Downtown. In May, nearly 250 people attended the Rochester Beacon Solutions Forum: The City School District, another event presented in partnership with Brockport Downtown’s Institute for Poverty Studies and Economic Development. We hope to have news soon about our next event.

Most of our mission statement concerns editorial principles. However, we’re also committed to working toward a related goal: creating an enduring business model for high-quality local journalism in the online era. We launched as an all-volunteer nonprofit organization and we continue to run a very lean operation. Even so, we would not have made it to the one-year mark without the financial support provided by businesses like Bond, Schoeneck & King —a sponsor of our website and weekly email, and presenting sponsor of our first two events—and numerous individuals. We are very grateful to all of them.

To achieve long-term sustainability and expand our coverage, however, we need to reach a higher level of financial support. One way we hope to do so is participating in this year’s NewsMatch campaign. A national matching-gift campaign now in its fourth year, NewsMatch has helped nonprofit newsrooms raise more than $14 million. It matches up to $1,000 per individual donor to participating organizations. NewsMatch 2019 will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31; details will be posted on our site prior to start the of the campaign. Meanwhile, we also are pursuing other funding opportunities and hope to be able to share news on them in the near future.

The business-model challenge is one all journalism organizations—for-profit and nonprofit—face. In a previous piece, I noted a recent Pew Research Center study that showed fewer than 15 percent of adults here and nationwide paid for local news in the last year. Many news sites have erected paywalls, hoping to boost revenues; we do not charge for access to our content. The Beacon’s model centers on financial contributions from community members who believe in our mission.  

Beyond contributing financially, there are a number of ways to support the Beacon. Sign up for the free Rochester Beacon Weekly Review email; if you’ve already done so, encourage your friends and colleagues to become subscribers. Volunteer your time and expertise—we are hoping to build out our core group with individuals skilled in areas such as event planning, technology and digital marketing. And, of course, consider writing for the Beacon or suggesting topics we should cover. (To submit essay or stories ideas, email: [email protected]. And feel free to share other thoughts or suggestions with me or any member of the Beacon staff.)

Tomorrow, we start year two of the Beacon. As we continue to grow, we’ll stay committed to the blend of narrative journalism, analysis and fact-based opinion that has brought us thousands of readers in the Rochester area (and others as distant as Europe and Asia). Thanks for being one of them and for supporting nonprofit, locally based journalism! 

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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