A free press, for pennies a day

Introducing Salon Premium: A message from Salon editor David Talbot.

By Salon Staff
Published April 25, 2001 5:50PM (EDT)

Dear Salon reader,

Last month, I announced that Salon would soon begin asking you to help support our publishing enterprise by subscribing to a premium version of the Web site. Well, that day of reckoning has arrived. Today we introduce Salon Premium, a special edition that allows you to turn off banner and pop-up advertising and that's laced with editorial extras available only to subscribers, such as a daily White House watchdog column (Bushed!), our irresistible blow-by-blow accounts of reality TV shows and a weekly gallery of erotic art. Other special features will be added to the Salon Premium mix in coming weeks.

As I explained in my last letter, Salon is taking the step of charging readers for this premium edition because advertising revenue alone cannot cover our publishing costs, even after stringent budget-cutting measures. For Salon to succeed, we must ask our readers to help defray our expenses, as do readers of print publications. While the Web has changed much about the economics of publishing -- Salon does not have to pay printing bills or trucking and postal fees, for instance -- some verities remain the same: Employees must be paid, reporters flown to news-making places, landlords kept at bay. In other words, the new economy turns out to bear a strong resemblance to the old.

When I started Salon over five years ago with a small band of like-minded rebels from the newspaper world, I had no idea how many readers would be drawn to our experiment in Web publishing. All I knew was that after 20 years in journalism, I was demoralized by its mediocrity and homogeneity. I hungered to edit a publication that wasn't market-tested and sanitized (for whose protection?), but rang with the raucous voices of a smart and uncowed staff. I looked to a colorful journalistic lineage for inspiration, from Walt Whitman and the early populist penny presses of New York to Mark Twain and the rowdy broadsheets of gold rush San Francisco. Each generation of American journalism has been replenished by misfits; just as newspapers and magazines begin to lose their lifeblood, turning as gray and spineless as earthworms, along comes a Harold Ross, A.J. Liebling, Clay Felker, I.F. Stone, Warren Hinckle, Jann Wenner, Kurt Andersen and countless unsung editors and publishers of underground papers, zines and other tabloids of eccentricity.

When the Internet seized my attention in 1994, I realized that journalism was being offered a democratic moment of unprecedented importance. A million and one presses would begin disseminating their version of all the news that was fit to print all around the globe. In the Web's early years, my expectations were not disappointed. From HotWired to Feed to Suck to Drudge to Slate to the Onion -- and later Slashdot, Jim Romenesko and Andrew Sullivan -- all the most vital new journalism was being practiced online. What Whitman wrote of the vibrantly democratic and often lurid penny newspapers that revolutionized American journalism in the 1830s and '40s could be said about the Internet press: "Everywhere their influence is felt. No man can measure it, for it is immeasurable."

I was proud for Salon to be part of this first wave of online media. I believe that our daily chili pot of reporting and crusading, politics and literature, sex and philosophy, is true to the great tradition of populist journalism. We see no contradiction between high and low; the entire human comedy is material for a good reporter's notebook. We are not a niche publication; we attempt to cover the world, and we do it with a lean crew of 36 editors and reporters. Not blessed, or burdened, with the bloated newsroom staff of your average daily newspaper, we try to compensate with wit and enterprise.

But the financial challenges of running a Web publication are more daunting than ever. Many of the best pioneering sites have gone out of business, and their disappearance has dimmed the early promise of the Web as an innovative news medium. It grows more clear every day that without the support of their readers, many of the finest Web sites cannot survive -- and everyone's list of favorite bookmarks will continue to shrink.

Fortunately, Salon's brand of journalism seems to have struck a chord. Over the years, we have managed to build a monthly readership that is nearly 3 million strong. From the daily torrent of e-mail that Salon receives, it's clear that many of these readers use Salon as their daily newspaper, or at least as a second opinion. As the American news product becomes increasingly dull and formatted, the public's hunger for feisty news outlets grows. We're now appealing to our large, and we'd like to think devoted, readership to keep Salon's unique voice booming by subscribing to Salon Premium. For $30 a year -- less in today's dollars than a yearly subscription to Walt Whitman's two-penny-a-day newspaper, the Aurora -- readers can avail themselves of Salon Premium's exclusive features while contributing to the vitality of the American press.

A good newspaper, either print or electronic, is more than just a coffee-fueled diversion. It's a lifeline to the world; it simultaneously connects us to a global family of shared concerns and reminds us who we are as individuals. For me, it takes only a day or two without the New York Times, or public radio, to remind me how important these bases are in my life. We have tried to make Salon just as essential a daily companion -- one filled with reporting and writing so strong you want to send it to your friends or write back to us in love or fury.

If you agree that you can't find anything else like Salon -- either online or off -- please click here to find out more and subscribe. In return, we promise to keep making a difference in your life.

-- David Talbot

Salon Staff

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