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By Ken Tingley, published on February 20, 2024

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While speaking to community groups in upstate New York after my retirement in 2020, the most frequent question was about the future of journalism.

The answer was elusive, but I did tell them I was not hopeful.

The audience was mostly older die-hard newspaper readers. While some complained about reading digital products online, their concerns escalated when their hometown paper began printing just three days a week.

I urged them to continue their financial support even as the product became more expensive with less content.

I urged them to broaden their media diet to the big-city daily in Albany, N.Y., and the local weeklies throughout the region. They needed to have digital subscriptions as well.

Their faces betrayed the reality that they didn’t want to pay.

If they could afford $200-a-month cable and digital phone bills, they could pay a lot more for their news, I argued.

Journalism has value, I told them.

Good journalism is expensive to do, I reminded them.

I also steered them toward my Substack newsletter, “The Front Page.”

When I was done writing my first two books, I realized I wasn’t done with column writing. I also noticed there was a void in our community when it came to high-quality commentary and editorials.

Newspapers all across the country have backed away from editorials and commentary, apparently afraid that it is bad for business. In these divisive times.

Someone tipped me off to the Substack platform.

I started my own newsletter.

The first column went out to 50 or so people. More than 2,000 have subscriptions now.

So during those community gatherings promoting my books, I asked people if they wanted to sign up for my newsletter.

It was free, I told them. That suited them.

Later, after one of my colleagues retired — Will Doolittle — I asked him if he wanted to join me and write a weekly column.

When I talked to community groups, I told them we were trying to fill in the gaps in the news coverage in our region. I told them we were trying to add context and perspective to the local news of the day like we used to do before we retired.

We had some 60 years of local institutional knowledge, and that was valuable. I argued that commentary, analysis and editorials were essential for small communities to understand the issues facing them.

We weren’t in competition with the newspaper but providing a community service.

As the newsletter evolved, I did more and more reporting as I used to do at the newspaper.

We attempted to hold local politicians like Rep. Elise Stefanik accountable.

After three years, Will and I wrestled with whether we should start charging. We believed our writing was valuable to the community, but if we put it behind a paywall we would be writing for an elite few.

We decided on a hybrid business model.

We told subscribers that we were going to begin asking for paid subscriptions while still publishing for free. We argued that by remaining free, the newsletter would continue to grow and serve everyone in the community during an important election year. But we also argued that journalism had value and those who found value in our work should get a paid subscription.

After asking for paid subscriptions on a voluntary basis, we received over 200 in that first week in February.


It has inspired us to write better and report more.

I suspect there are hundreds of former journalists grappling with what to do in retirement, wondering how they can put their talents to good use and help their communities by putting their institutional knowledge to work.

They are needed more than ever. Our Substack experience showed it is still possible to make a difference in our little corner of the world — even in retirement.

Ken Tingley is the retired editor of The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y. He has written three books since retiring, including The Last American Newspaper, which was recently adapted into a play. He currently writes a column three times a week in The Front Page — kentingley.substack.com.

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