A Message from the Publisher: A Most Direct Public Offer

When I started my career in newspapers 43 years ago, we still set our classified ads with lead type. In 1985 I trained myself on our first Apple Macintosh computer at The Healdsburg Tribune. I retired my beloved Canon FTb film camera in 1996 and launched our first internet website in 1999.

Never in my newspaper career have newspapers and the people who work for them faced bigger challenges than we face right now. Never.

Thousands of newspaper jobs have been lost all across America in just the past few years. Hundreds of newspapers have closed their doors, including 12 more in the last two months in California alone.

A community without a newspaper to call its own is like a town without a town square, plaza or central park. It would be like not having a high school, library or museum. With more help from subscribers and advertisers and others, we can keep this newspaper alive and thriving.

What’s more important right now than having a reliable source of local news and a trusted public forum for ideas, commentary and problem solving? Are you with me?

Sonoma West Publishers, owned by me and my wife, Sarah Bradbury, along with our incredible staff, are launching a new vision for community newspapers. We are building a community-owned, reader-powered and fiercely local newspaper.

We are elevating our newspaper institution to more fully embrace the same democratic and publicly accountable principles we demand of all other community institutions.

We are asking members of the community to become investors and partners in this newspaper. You can now buy shares, support community journalism and make a modest profit with an annual three percent stockholder dividend.

Officially, this is called a Direct Public Offer and we have been certified by the State of California. Other types of businesses and nonprofits have implemented DPOs, but we will be the first print newspaper in America to do so.

Wait, there’s more.

We are tearing down the walls to our newsroom and inviting all of you to enter and help shape, select and share as much local news as possible. I’m not kidding. Give up some of your twittering and Facebook time and get involved in real news with real journalists and help solve real issues and community problems.

We aim to raise $400,000 with new equity investors. We will use that money to support our professional journalists and to increase our news output. We will add trendsetting collaboration tools to our new virtual newsroom. Our business operations will all be transparent. We want the community to see how real news gets paid for and where the money goes.

Your investment will sustain a more in-depth print version of our newspapers. It’s a simple proposition: more subscriptions and more advertising equals more news and better newspapers. We need to hear from more of you so we can keep expanding our “real” news conversations. Tell your neighbors, please.

Another part of our reinvention is we are “going live.” In this age of social media disruption and shortage of effective civic participation, this newspaper must now broaden its leadership role. With new investors we will begin hosting live events, seminars and engaging community gatherings.

Are you with us? You should be, because it’s not just newspapers that are under attack in these times. There are real threats to our democracy, too. We cannot have a free society without independent journalists. And don’t kid yourself that Facebook.com or Nextdoor.com can take our place.

Staffing, printing and delivering newspapers is expensive. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Do we need more support? You bet we do.

Our newspapers have been supporting this community for a long, long time. Now it is time for us to ask for your support, which we will continue to earn, every week. Invest. Subscribe. Advertise. Check us out at invest.sonomawest.com.

Thank you.

 — Rollie Atkinson