How To Save Journalism

Christopher Theodore
6 min readOct 24, 2018

We have everything we need to begin to save American journalism now.

We have $400 billion spent annually on advertising and marketing in the US, which can power the rebuilding of American journalism.

We have the US post office, which Amazon and Netflix prove is much more than a content and physical delivery system. It is a massively leverageable network creator, one capable of creating a world-changing journalistic network in America.

We have the best journalists and newsrooms in the world. And we have a massive crisis of trust in media and journalism. What we have not heard is how to arrange these things in such a way that saves American journalism. Until now.

By “saving journalism” I mean a system-wide reversal of the trend in which quality is sacrificed for financial sustainability. I mean a journalism that exerts pressure on people, corporations and institutions to be honest and act according to the law or face steep political and economic consequences from an informed public. I mean the introduction of one or more for-profit journalism enterprises doing journalism in a way that exerts system-wide pressure on media companies to maintain higher standards of journalism or lose audiences and advertisers.

It’s this vision of the effect of a journalism working again that radically improves the level at which Americans are informed that has driven my colleague and I for the last seventeen years.

Over that time she and I have slowly improved a simple, local media model that profitably connects and informs communities and cities in Southern California. Today, the print extension of our model, The Reader, reaches 390,000 Californians by mail. Our experience in communities and research of the local media market reveal a massive opportunity to save journalism in America.

At The Reader, we hope to reverse the decline of American democracy from four decades of media consolidation and its destructive impact on American journalism. We hope to regain the public’s trust, put to work thousands of talented, full-time journalists across the nation and create thousands of robust, independent, local news organizations.

We will use our model to put into place a profitable system enabling the continuous influence of everyone in America. Our plan includes podcasts, print magazines, digital media and the United States Post Office. The engine of our solution is its power to capture 1% or more of the $400 billion in annual advertising and marketing expenditures in the U.S.

Creating A New America

It is possible to create a network of robust, local media channels in the United States in about five years or less. It is possible through initially modest and later aggressive roll-out of one local, financially-sustainable media entity in each of 4,000 communities of 30,000 households, which together equal the entire U.S. population.

Each of these media entities will be multi-platform, including a podcast, mobile app, and quarterly printed news magazine mailed free to all 30,000 households, powered by advertising.

Each zone serving 120,000 households will include a beautiful office for four advertising sales people (one per sub-zone) and one community manager, which will create a nationwide network of 1,000 offices, designed to be cultural and social spaces. Reader offices and spaces will create the opportunity for deeper, long term connections between The Reader and local populations. This may be highly disruptive as it will address a major cultural and social void in American communities for a place where you don’t have to buy anything.

How We Learned It is Possible

In 2011, we began to research and develop plans to harness part of the $140 billion spent on local advertising in the US to power public interest journalism in print form into every home in the United States, at no cost to the recipient. Our research was refined by the on- the-ground knowledge accumulated beginning eleven years earlier when The Reader began.

Taking what we knew about local advertising and the development of local media channels our team developed many scenarios, models, and highly complex strategic, operational and financial plans. We also did an enormous amount of research of the local advertising market and media channels in communities across the U.S.

We learned that what Sam Walton saw in U.S. communities in 1962 — economic homogeneity — still exists enough to create vibrant, fact-driven, extremely profitable local political magazines in print and digital format that can lift political consciousness, inspire and mobilize.

In fact, in 2017, an average of $384,000 was spent every day on advertising to each 30,000 U.S. households, or about $100 million annually. Yes, most or $85 million of the $100 million was spent by companies outside these communities, but an average of $15 million was spent by businesses in the community.

Creating a local media entity in more and more communities, loved in part because of its structural capacity to speak truth to power, ironically creates the power to sell advertising to the largest U.S. advertisers which need to influence large audiences and have ever fewer options.

Media Revolution Mu$t Include Print

There are four reasons why print must be included in a new media infrastructure with the power to permanently and radically improve the level at which Americans are informed on the most important issues. First, a print magazine enables the entity — through the USPS — to physically connect with every person in a local community. Second, while not all local business owners and potential advertisers will agree with or value the political perspective of the magazine, all will value its capacity to reach all of their potential customers. Third, each 128-page, full-color magazine costs only 50¢ to print, 25¢ to mail, $3.15 for personnel, editorial and operating expenses and produces $7.00 in advertising revenue, profits from which can fund additional local and national journalism, and cultural and social development in each community.

Fourth, more is spent on print than any other form of advertising in the U.S. local advertising market. Last year, about 50% of the $140 billion spent by U.S. local advertisers and 8% or $22 billion of the $260 billion spent by U.S. national advertisers was spent on print, for a total of 23% or $92 billion of the total $400 billion spent by all U.S. advertisers. According to a Boston Consulting Group study sponsored by Yelp!, U.S. SMEs are spending only 3% of their ad budgets on Internet/mobile advertising, a share which will grow, making it the ideal time to be first to establish authentic, local media channels in print and digital form.

Print is also a great equalizer, enabling The Reader to connect with people — through the USPS — who are the poorest and most marginalized and without access to computers.

The Power to Continuously Influence Everyone in America

The Reader model at scale allows every person in America with a mailing address to get honest, world-class journalism free. It enables the influencing of the hardest-to-reach rural communities in America, suburbs, and metropolitan areas — everyone. And with what content? As these figures show, The Reader model produces enough revenue and profits that it can employ one full-time reporter for every 60,000 households. Each will each create quality, local, digital and print content, including a local podcast. The Reader model enables the hiring of as many as 2,000 new American journalists, at an average salary of $60,000 a year. The Reader will also spend its editorial budget on content produced by the best explanatory and investigative journalism organizations such as Center for Public Integrity, Reveal, ProPublica, members of the Institute for Non-Profit News and marginalized public interest thinkers, activists and organizations.

Since 2002 to the present, Noble Media has built a network of personal relationships with talented mid, senior and C-level local media and advertising executives in many of the most successful and largest local media firms, some producing $500 million+ per year in California.

In 2016, Noble Media finished a comprehensive operational and strategic plan that spells out all the details of how to create what has been described here. In 2017, it drafted a 152-page private placement memorandum in order to enable investors to participate in this planning. This year, it secured $200,000 in growth capital to begin to make this plan real.

The Reader at scale, reaching all U.S. persons at the same time, powered by a million of the nation’s smallest businesses rather than only its 500 largest, will enjoy a level of independence from mainstream thought and power structures. It is destined to not only be wildly popular with audiences and its SME customers, but its massive, locally-based nationwide infrastructure and enormous revenue and profits will mean politically progressive movements will have what they have been without and have sought for so long: a financially powerful, mission-aligned ally for reforming U.S. politics and society.

What might we see in the future? Here’s what we see is coming. Believe it.

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Christopher Theodore

Christopher Theodore is Co-Founder of The Reader Magazine, one of the largest​ digital and physical​ local media channels in California (www.reader.us).