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SNO Survey: The Results Are In

There’s an old saying that goes, “never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.”

That’s a good rule to live by if you’re in court, but when it comes to the business of reporting local news, question-asking is essential to forward-movement. With that in mind, Sierra News Online recently conducted a survey, and the results are in.

We had over 500 individuals respond, and as an incentive, we offered three $50 Visa cards to randomly drawn winners. Congratulations to Valerie B., Dorothy M. and Stan L.!

Of the 500-plus people that answered the survey, more than 200 provided comments. Most of those comments were positive, and we were happy to read that people value the speed, accuracy, integrity and dependability of Sierra News Online.

Some of you called SNO your “number one, go-to news source,” and others commented on the well-written and researched stories, especially with regard to fire coverage.

Of recent Willow Fire reports, one reader referred to SNO as “the only truth in a sea of misinformation that was often a whole day behind.” Several people cited the website and its social media as an integral part of our community’s communication.

“We have never had a site like yours and everyone I know has come to depend on you for up to the minute reporting on mountain happenings.

For these comments, and all the others, we thank you. Behind the scenes, we are touched by your kind words and glad you are happy.

One part of the survey, however, seemed to generate some concern or even controversy, and we’d like to clear that confusion up right now.

“It sounds like you may want to start charging for this,” said one otherwise-satisfied reader. Please don’t.”

Sierra News Online doesn’t want to create a paywall or charge for the local news so many in the community have come to rely on.

As hyper-local news sites across the globe search for a sustainable business model in order to survive and thrive, we have chosen to offer our readers a voluntary subscription that will allow you to support something that adds value to your life, and welcomes you into our inner circle.

We invite you to become sustaining members of SNO and receive an exclusive newsletter each Thursday with all the stories of the week, the upcoming events of the weekend, and discounts to local businesses available only to members.

We are also adding a special “Milestones” section to the homepage where members can submit events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and congratulations, complete with photos and up to 500 words about that special person. It’s a section for celebration and shout-outs to the important people in your lives.

Regular readers who do not choose to become members will never get anything less than the timely, fact-based reporting that we provide every single day. We do encourage you to consider how often you go to SNO to find out what’s happening, and how quickly we provide you with that information. Is that worth the price of a latte each month?

“I love that I get recent news. I will hear sirens outside, I go get on Facebook and you guys are posting what happened.”

Many readers recognize that the news business of the 21st-century operates in a rapidly changing dynamic with the object of “how to create a sustainable business model” being a moving target that’s tricky to hit. This is especially true when you are a home-grown, locally owned and operated, independent endeavor, and can’t rely on corporate dollars, only on community support.

“I hope you are able to find the balance between monetization and value to the customer,” said one fan, and we feel the same way.

Another added, “We don’t expect you to exist for free, but does advertising not cover enough to make it worth it?”

That’s a great question. We have many loyal advertisers and we appreciate every one of them, and encourage our readers to patronize them, click through to their websites, and be part of helping to sustain local businesses. We’re all in this together, and your support is crucial.

We live in a wonderful small town area where “advertising” can mean anything from a business-name on the back of a sports jersey, to a sign-spinner at the intersection, a spot in local publications, nearly-infinite donations in silent auctions and raffle give-aways, and lots of promotion on social media.

Take the choices for advertising and divide that into the number of local businesses with ad money to spend, and you have about a nickel left over. So the answer is – advertising does not cover the expense of covering the news. From the price of gas, website hosting and design, reporters and equipment, to the cost of electricity, expenses are real and regular.

The good news is that any income we receive goes directly into getting you what you want: more information, more quickly. We are an independent local news source, and we put every dollar we take in right back into the community where we live, shop, dine and play.

There are often things that we can’t cover because we don’t have the staff. We want to make sure that everything you want to know about is available on SNO, and that requires more people, which requires more funding. SNO was started as a service to the community, and we are fiercely dedicated to providing that service at the very highest level possible. All service organizations do fundraising. Constantly. It’s their life blood.

What’s essential to the growth and sustainability of local service organizations, theater groups, youth clubs and sports leagues, animal rescues, the arts and other mountain-area projects is publicity and donations. Your membership directly contributes toward the free publicity that supports those important local endeavors, many of which you are likely involved in. Your membership is a vote of confidence in the work we do. And you get perks!

We do not have corporate backing, we are not on the New York Stock Exchange, nor can we collect subscriptions for people to read the news, without a paywall. We don’t have a printed version for which we could charge. And that brings us to another subject that the survey brought to light – there remains a bit of identity confusion.

One reader wrote, “We enjoy the community feel of the newspaper. We wait for Thursdays and the new issue.”

Er, um… thanks? This would be a good time to say, we are not the Sierra Star.

We love and appreciate the Star and all the people who work there, but just to be clear – we are not the online version. We know it’s confusing, because the names are similar. We get that we’re the new kids on the block after only three years, and we respect all those who have gone before us and others who will continue to develop ways to get vital information out to the people of this area.

“Often the rumors spread quickly, and we look to you for calm facts.”

We want our readers to know that if something critical has occurred, we will report as soon as humanly possible. That said, sometimes that means we have to wait in order to report accurately, and get confirmation on facts from the Sheriff, CHP, Cal Fire or other agencies, hopefully in a timely manner.

Looking at the SNO survey gave us some great ideas on ways we can serve the community more effectively. Some of those suggestions will be implemented as we expand our coverage of local areas, continue to update our new calendar section so that it contains all the great events that go on in the mountain area, provide an up-to-date crime log on a weekly basis, add a video module, and work to create more value daily.

The fresh website template we launched in July was the subject of some excitement for a couple of people who were reluctant to accept change initially, and then found that our new, responsive site is easier, faster, and more fun to use. And it now shows up properly on cell phones and tablets – a huge step forward!

Some readers are looking for ways to have their stories and articles included on Sierra News Online. We welcome that! We are all about that! In fact, our motto is, “Tell Us Your Story.” Please, submit your news, information, stories, photographs, mindful meanderings, calendar items, fundraisers, sports scores and anything else you want, to Also and

One individual asked that non-Facebook users, roughly 40% of our audience, be able to comment on stories. You can, in fact, do that by registering on the website first. Once your comment is approved, it will become a permanent part of the record of the story. All comments are approved, except for those containing obscenities. Which brings us to another point. Sigh.

“Limit negative public comments on news stories,” suggested one reasonable person. “Really sick of the uninformed, judgmental comments which appear following every post,” said another, referring to Facebook.

We feel the same way, but here’s the thing: we believe it’s really important that we not edit or delete comments. Editing and deleting comments is a slippery slope, due to the whole, “what offends you does not necessarily offend me” nature of the beast, and also, as a nod toward basic freedom of speech. Facebook will hide obscenities, but it’s simply amazing the number of ways certain writers will come at a bit of foul language, spelling it in ways the Facebook filter can’t catch.

So then, we monitor it and delete comments with foul language, occasionally asking commentors to repost without the salty stuff. Sometimes that works. Other times, horrible things are said that have nothing to do with language, and that’s where our jobs become really tricky. We rely on the community to “talk among themselves,” as we call it in the office, and if someone goes too far, we notice that people will say so. We appreciate this.

As a result of the survey, some people had questions of their own.

“I’m frequently amazed at how quickly the news is delivered,” said one, while another person asked, “Do you ever sleep?”

That made us laugh. The answer is yes, we do sleep – though sometimes, not a lot. But when we do, something always happens, and missing it makes us mad! So we try not to.

The big story this week is – we appreciate you, Readers. We appreciate your participation on social media, your tips and photographs, school news, community and business news, your good news of all sorts, and your contributions whether in the form of financial support, blogs and stories, or just every time you hit “Share” and “Like.”

Finally, readers had some advice.

“Try not to overthink things.”

Okay, we’ll try, but usually that doesn’t work for us. We will try, though!

“Been meaning to donate but I’m kind of a cheapskate. If you need it, I will donate because I value your news but I will need a little encouragement.”

Consider yourself encouraged! You are indispensable to what we do! We hope that what we’ve shared here will help you with your decision. Either way, we’re grateful for your participation on SNO.

Some had comments and questions about advertising.

I would like to advertise my business on the SNO website but the lowest rate I have seen so far of $50 per month is well beyond my advertising budget.”

For anyone who wants to know about advertising, call our Advertising and Marketing Director, Rima Runtzel, and see what she can do for you. It’s one thing to look at the website for prices and information, and another thing entirely to challenge our department to help you create what you need. Go for it.

Once again, thank you to everyone who took valuable time out of their day to complete our survey. Here’s our favorite comment, and one we vow to carry out:

“Keep up the good work while pushing to be better.”

That we will, Readers. That we will.


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Sierra News Online

Sierra News Online