Media Moves

Chesterfield Observer will no longer offer free online subscriptions

September 10, 2020

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Scott Bass, editor of the Chesterfield Observer sent out the following announcement regarding the paper starting to charge for online subscriptions.

For the last 25 years, the Chesterfield Observer has provided the news and information that’s important to our readers free of charge. It’s built into our code as journalists. Each week, our award-winning staff works to produce a newspaper that is routinely recognized as one of the best in the state. It’s our mission to provide great storytelling and watchdog journalism to as many readers as possible.

During these challenging times, however, we’re confronting a new reality: Print advertising, our primary source of revenue, has declined to all-time lows. Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has hastened an industry trend away from an over-reliance on display advertising in newspapers. With so much of the economy shuttered since late March, advertising alone simply isn’t enough to support the quality journalism readers have come to expect from the Chesterfield Observer.

Beginning this week, visitors to our website will be prompted to register for a free account prior to accessing stories and other editorial content. It’s the first step in a major shift for the Chesterfield Observer: For the next three weeks, reading and viewing digital content will require a free account. Then, starting Sept. 30, online readers will be limited to three free articles each month; after that, most of our digital content will require a paid subscription.

Print advertising is still effective, as our many business partners and customers can attest. It’s just no longer sufficient to sustain our editorial operation – the writers, photographers, editors and designers who produce the stories and photography, the community news and information – or our hard-working sales executives, administrators and the delivery drivers responsible for distributing newspapers each week. As a business, we must find new sources of revenue.

We believe local, community journalism is critical to a functioning democracy, keeping our communities connected and engaged, and maintaining the public trust. During last year’s campaign season, for example, when all of the county’s elected officials were up for reelection, the Chesterfield Observer partnered with the Chesterfield Chamber and ChamberRVA to host two public forums featuring all of the candidates for both the School Board and Board of Supervisors. We ask the tough questions and hold our elected officials accountable. We’ve done this for more than two decades at no cost to you, the reader.

The print newspaper will continue to be distributed at no charge. The vast majority of our readers will continue to get the paper for free, either at their homes or at one of our 56 pickup locations around the county. (For those not located along our delivery routes, you can still buy an annual subscription and get the Observer mailed directly to your home).

Unlimited access to, however, will soon require a paid account. We’ve grown our online editorial coverage over the last few years, and we’re placing a bet: We believe the content we work to produce has value, and is worth continuing. If we manage to secure enough paying subscribers, we can begin to transition to a more sustainable business model – one that helps us grow stronger, and, as a result, helps our community grow stronger.

Please bear with us during this transition. Online subscription pricing will be announced in the next couple of weeks. As a journalistic institution accustomed to providing news free of charge, this is new territory for us. But our mission remains unchanged: To bring you, the reader, unbiased, independent journalism to strengthen our community by keeping citizens aware, engaged and connected.

To survive, we have to adapt. We believe the quality of our journalism and the loyalty we’ve built over the last 25 years have immense value. We hope you do, too.


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