Five years ago this month, as we began to hatch the idea to add this print edition to complement our news website, eastendbeacon.com, there were plenty of people who said we were crazy. Print was dead, they argued, and we didn’t really disagree. We picked April Fool’s Day for a launch date in anticipation of such heckling, and, we have to admit, we made just the splash we had anticipated.
Our thinking at the time was pretty simple — what better advertisement could there be for something as intangible as a website than a big, flashy broadsheet print edition.
Somehow, this synergy has worked.
The five year mark is the one small business advisors will tell you is all-important. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, they say, or something to that effect, and they’re right.
But there are so many things about this particular type of business that are intangible and unquantifiable, that dwell more in the realm of public trust and ethics than they do in the world of balance sheets and business plans.
When you buy a bar of soap, you expect a bar of soap. When you buy a copy of a newspaper, you expect a portal to your community, and that’s an ephemeral thing that can’t be captured every day. We have to earn your trust, every month, by sticking to our values and hoping that those values reflect your values. It’s a pretty sticky business.
Somewhere in the middle of our first year, we clarified all of this with a mission statement that we quietly put at the bottom of page two, where it has stayed ever since: “The East End Beacon is devoted to new ideas, social and environmental justice and arts & culture on the East End of Long Island.”
This is a lot to strive for, and we continue to find it aspirational every day, especially during times when we are just happy we’ve kept the lights on for another month.
They say most people dramatically overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but they also dramatically underestimate what they will be able to accomplish in ten years.
Here, at the five year mark, we are humbled to have survived the upheaval of the pandemic, and the social and political strife of the times in which this paper was formed.
These have been times that are hostile to the search for the truth, and hostile to the mission of the media. Attempting to straddle the old media of print at a time of such great derision toward gatekeepers of the news has been a real eye-opener, even on a local level. The damage the world of “alternative facts” has done to the establishment press may never be undone.
But this industry was in mortal trouble before the assault on truth ushered in by Donald Trump’s presidential administration.
While we here were raised with the morning newspaper in the days before Instagram and cable news, we are fully immersed in the business of the future, and in the business of new ideas.
Part of the future is believing that the consumption of news is an agreement between us, as editors and publishers, and you, the reader. You are reading this now because you trust us to contextualize local news for you. It’s an honor to have earned that trust, whether we earned it from you in the five years this newspaper has been here, or perhaps sometime in the years before, when the only place to find The Beacon was in the wilds of the Internet.
The pandemic has shown us how much we need one another, not just for tangible things like providing food or transportation or other services deemed “essential” in the early days of Covid. The news was essential then too, and it remains so today.
We need real connections, with real people. We need to reach out to our neighbors who have become so accustomed to hiding in their houses that they might not ever come out. We need to reach out to people grieving or exhausted from their essential work. Reaching out will sustain us as much as it sustains them.
We are social creatures, and the media works best when it acts as an extension of the original social network — a community.
The trial by fire of the last five years has given us more faith in our mission statement now than we had when we first wrote it, but we still have so much more work to do.
The fights against climate change and antidemocratic movements will likely be with us as long as anyone involved with this newspaper is alive, along with the ever-present work of making our neighborhoods more inclusive, fair and just.
Income inequality is still a powerful subtext to so much of our lives out here, and it never gets enough attention, especially not from larger news outlets, where headline writers seem to think the East End is filled with millionaires and billionaires, conveniently forgetting how many of our lives here revolve around serving the ultra-rich.
The truest mission of a newspaper has always been to afflict the comfortable, and to comfort the afflicted.
We are all going to be blindsided by the enormity of the needs of our Baby Boomer family members as they age, and the future of our children’s education is poised to become one of the biggest hot potato issues of coming political campaigns. Whether we are able to care for our families will dictate whether we have enough bandwidth to also care for our communities.
The “Families First” signs you’re beginning to see cropping up everywhere (and there are likely to be more to come as the midterm political season gets underway) are just the tip of the spear of a massive debate over what kind of social creatures we intend to be.
How big is our tribe? Is it as small as our family or as big as the world? Is it somewhere in between?
These are just a few of the questions we intend to ask in the years ahead, and we hope we can look back on this column, in another five years, and say that we worked each day to strive to answer these questions.
We would never have been able to do all this without your support. Thank you.