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Why now is the time to remove our paywall (and how you can help)

Tuesday, November 30, 2021 by Joel Gross

The Austin Monitor officially launched as a nonprofit in 2013, but our reporting roots go all the way back to the mid-’90s. We have been producing ongoing and in-depth public service journalism that covers important issues in the community for nearly 30 years.

Since our official launch over eight years ago, we’ve seen two significant trends emerge. The first relates to our city. Whether you have lived in Austin for five days or 50 years, you already know all about the vibrant and special energy that both defines our city and propels it forward. I could list stat after stat but it all points back to one major takeaway: Austin has become one of the most desirable cities in the country.

The second trend is also quite personal for us: the rapid decline of local news over the past two decades. According to recent data, over 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper, or none at all. Words like “crisis,” “collapse” and “news deserts” are all used when describing this alarming trend. 

As a mission-driven nonprofit news organization, we put our service to the community above all else. For us to advance our mission, we must continuously assess and understand the needs of the community. With declining access to trusted and fully local news, and Austin poised to be one of the defining cities of the future, it became apparent that we needed to take a big step forward to expand local news and strengthen the future of our community.

After a year of discussion with our board, advisers, staff and community members, we decided that removing our paywall and transitioning to a free, community-supported news model was the clear next step. Beginning today, all of our articles and resources will be free and fully accessible to the entire community. 

The ultimate deciding factor in moving forward with this exciting transition connects to a historic and powerful shared value in our community and the country at large: democracy. The term “democracy” usually makes one think of voting and elections. While those are important aspects, democracy encompasses so much more. Democracy is the awareness of important local issues and decisions; an understanding of and context for the world around us; and the sharing of ideas and connecting with others from across the community. For the Fourth Estate to work as intended, democracy requires trusted and accessible news.      

The Austin Monitor exists at the intersection of local government and the community, at what I think of as the front lines of democracy. Our nonpartisan, in-depth news reporting is designed to help you become a part of the issues and decisions that are shaping our community. This is democracy in action, and the lifeblood of democracy is local participation. 

Throughout our history, we have operated under a paid-subscription model, so this is a big shift for our organization. These upcoming months are critical to ensuring this transition takes hold. While we are genuinely excited by this transition, we’re also looking to our loyal readers like you to help us out in two crucial areas. 

First, consider becoming a sustaining member with a monthly donation. While our news and resources will be free for the community, reporting the news day in and day out takes dedicated resources – and there is so much big news coming up that we want to bring to you. As a member, you will support our work and our mission, and most of all, you will help strengthen local news and democracy. 

Second, and this is a bit meta, help us spread the news. Austinites care about their community. We hope that now, with fully free and accessible news, our work can reach more community members than ever before. As a current reader, we already see you as a community leader. Help lead us in this next step by connecting your friends, neighbors and colleagues to the Austin Monitor.   

Here’s to our next step, and your support in helping strengthen democracy and the future of our community. 

Joel Gross is the CEO of the Austin Monitor.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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