Today marks the start of the Rochester Beacon’s fourth year of publication. Since Oct. 18, 2018, we’ve proven up to the challenge of producing high-quality content day after day, growing a sizable readership and building a solid financial base—not to mention handling what a global pandemic threw at us.
More than ever, we’re focused now on growing and ensuring that the Beacon is sustainable well into the future. Our top priority right now: expanding the Beacon team.
The Beacon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that began as an all-volunteer operation, but since year two, all writers and photographers on assignment have been compensated. Even at our current level of funding, we have room to grow our roster of editorial contributors. While journalism experience is preferred, we would happily talk with anyone who has an interest in helping us produce top-quality content. Writing, editing, photography, videography, illustration—if you have any of those skills, we’d be eager to talk with you. Feel free to contact me or Managing Editor Smriti Jacob.
We’re also looking for non-editorial help. Marketing, audience development, fundraising, technology, events, accounting—if your expertise lies in any of those areas, there could be a place for you on the Beacon team. We’re not looking for full-timers; if you can fit in even a few hours a week, we’d like to hear from you.
Even if you don’t have the time, experience or inclination to become directly involved in our venture, there are easy ways to support the Beacon. Sign up for the free Rochester Beacon Weekly Review email or, if you’ve already done so, ask your friends and colleagues to join you as subscribers. And consider making a financial contribution, especially in the last two months of the year.
For the third year in a row, we will be participating in the annual NewsMatch campaign, which will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. A national matching-gift campaign now in its sixth year, NewsMatch has become the single most important source of funds to sustain our operations. It matches up to $1,000 per individual donor to participating nonprofit news organizations. The Beacon raised more than $20,000 from individual contributors in both 2019 and 2020, surpassing our NewsMatch goal. Details will be posted on our website prior to the start of this year’s campaign.
Contributions make it possible for us to deliver the mix of narrative journalism, analysis and fact-based opinion that has been embraced by readers. In our second year, amid the pandemic, our growth accelerated; the number of website users more than doubled, outpacing the healthy growth of our weekly email subscriber base. In year three, both continued to grow, but this time the weekly email led the way. We aim to continue to expand our audience in the coming year.
We recently took another significant step in our journey: establishing a board with four external members who will help shape our growth strategy. We are extremely grateful that they believe in our mission and are willing to share their time and expertise. These board members are:
■ Thomas Richards, former Rochester mayor, who also served as chairman, president and CEO of RGS Energy Group, and has played numerous other important roles in the community.
■ Kimberly Jones, president and CEO of Butler/Till, a 100 percent employee-owned certified B Corporation that ranks among the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.
■ Hélène Biandudi Hofer, owner of media group HBH Enterprises and an award-winning journalist and producer who produced the PBS news show “Need to Know” on WXXI-TV in Rochester and recently managed Solution Journalism Network’s Complicating the Narratives project.
■ Alex Amorese, a licensed real estate salesperson at CB Richard Ellis, who has served as an associate board member for Gilda’s Club Rochester, a national cancer support organization.
From the beginning, readers have been drawn to the Beacon in part by the range of issues and topics we cover. This breadth of interest is reflected in a sampling of articles by Beacon staffers and community contributors that gained the most readers over the last 12 months:
Managing Editor Smriti Jacob’s profile of Malik Evans as he launched his bid to unseat incumbent Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren; Senior Writer Will Astor’s examination of the city’s highest year-over-year increase in its homicide rate in a decade; Opinion Editor Kent Gardner on what a Biden win in the 2020 presidential election would mean for Rochester; Publisher Alex Zapesochny’s piece on Attorney General Letitia James’ handling of the Daniel Prude case; and contributing writer Mike Costanza’s article on the COVID-19 pandemic’s racial disparities.
The core of our mission is to explore the complex challenges facing Rochester, but we don’t hesitate to publish meaningful work that might fall outside this scope. Two examples: Senior Editor E.C. Salibian’s highly personal piece on why President Joe Biden’s use of the word genocide to describe the Ottoman-era atrocities that claimed 1.5 million Armenian lives matters to all of us; and Washington correspondent Peter Lovenheim’s article on several Rochester natives who work in D.C. and shared their thoughts on the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. And the addition of Frank De Blase’s weekly posts on the local music scene have drawn a number of new readers.
Community contributors are an important part of the Beacon. Most-read among the articles they wrote for us in the last year was a piece on how screening of pregnant women and newborns is a practice that disproportionately targets Blacks, written by Yubin Oh, a junior studying political science and health policy at the University of Rochester. No. 2 was Geoff Rosenberger’s piece, “In New York, do we get what we pay for in education?”
The most-read Beacon story published in the last 12 months was one that focused on a very local issue: the demise of Fairport’s Inn on Church and the bitter court battle that followed in its wake, written by Will Astor.
Before the pandemic, we held a number of live events to generate discussion and debate on important issues. Since early 2020, we’ve been forced to pivot to online events; I’m happy to say that they too have drawn sizable audiences—in particular, last week’s one-on-one conversation with City Council member Malik Evans, who is expected to be Rochester’s next mayor. These events have been made possible through the generous support of sponsors. Special thanks go to Bond, Schoeneck & King, sponsor of our website and weekly email, and also a sponsor of events such as the one last week.
What I wrote on our first anniversary remains true today: The Rochester Beacon is very much a work in progress—and by design, that’s how it will remain. We will continue to explore new ways to present high-quality local journalism, promote discussion about solutions to the challenges facing Rochester, and build an enduring business model for the online era. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please share them with me or any member of the Beacon staff.
Once again, many thanks for reading the Rochester Beacon and supporting nonprofit, locally based journalism!
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.