Hail and Farewell from The Goldenrod
365 days and 116 stories later, this hyperlocal journalism experiment is ending—at least for now.
Happy one year to us!
Today, July 20, marks the one-year anniversary of The Goldenrod, which I launched with the aim to provide—as our first post trumpeted—“culture stories, long-form reported pieces, and community-driven resources on the high-points, hurdles, and everything in-between currently facing rural central and eastern Kentucky.”
365 days and 116 stories (!) later, this heartfelt, expansive experiment in hyperlocal community journalism is coming to an end—at least for now.
We’ve covered everything from Kentucky’s glaring electronic waste problem, vulnerable infrastructure, and lack of action around orphan oil wells, to upstart mental health resources for rural farmers and why a “green” amendment to the state constitution would be an environmental game-changer. We’ve hunted for ways to end rural hunger, DoorDashed down backroads, tracked rural COVID vaccine rates in kids, swapped small appliances with Tradio, and explored why Kentuckians love to “pack” the pews (in more ways than one). We made a futuristic digital art gallery, commissioned exclusive songs, created a snarky—but true—bingo board, and captured issues facing the region in comic form. After tagging along on a reporting trip, my toddler became obsessed with Appalachian yaks (and still is). We handed out over 100 legislative superlatives, made dozens of printable handouts, and caused a stir about, of all things, public transit vs. golf cart laws. There’s been poetry and there’s been literature—with some reviews manifesting a bit of good-old-fashioned criticism controversy. We’ve had at least one touch-point in each of the 60 counties we covered (not including data pieces!) and so, so much more.
We’ve strived to center marginalized voices and elevate those people speaking truth to the locally powerful who are all-too-often stuck in their ways (sometimes cruelly so). Whether we were tracing a rural history of LGBTQ+ Kentuckians through archival ephemera, reporting on ableism within our school systems, or standing up for rural AAPI restaurants, there’s been nothing more important to this publication than grassroots reporting that reflects the diversity of our region.
After all this, though, I’ve made the decision to close up shop—and the why is pretty easy to guess. (Hint: it’s funding.) Despite a very robust number of free subscribers, our paid subscriber list never even came close to the level necessary to sustain the full-time (and then some) work that goes into making The Goldenrod, and the start-up capital allotted through the Substack Local program isn’t being renewed. I’ve lost a lot of sleep thinking through all the different ways we could push forward into year two—begin the process of becoming a nonprofit newsroom, launch into the world of advertising, endear ourselves to a wealthy benefactor—but none of those feel like the correct path. (Unless you just have a pile of money around for a local news outlet and then, by all means, call me.)
Could I have pushed free subscribers to become paid subscribers more aggressively? Probably, yes. The reality of The Goldenrod, though, is that it’s much different than 99 percent of other newsletters out there. Along with building an audience for my publication, I was educating our small-town-Kentucky readership from the ground up about how e-mail newsletters work, what “Substack” is, and why anyone should read (or trust) independent local news—all in a region with spotty internet access to begin with. I knew the learning curve would be a little steep, I just didn’t anticipate how steep. (Perhaps most surprising to me has been how many older local journalists still believe that print is the only “real” media and that online ventures are relatively newfangled. Yes, really, in 2022.) Also, The Goldenrod launched at a time when things plunged from bad-to-worse for so many communities around here already teetering on the edge, and hounding folks who are struggling for $6-a-month is just not something I could do in good faith.
There’s a laundry list of lessons learned from this project when it comes to the future-of-media and local journalism—ironically, enough to start a newsletter about—but for now, I’m just thankful to have been a part of the Substack Local program and to everyone who read, shared or even glanced over a story. It means the world to me.
There might be a few death rattle pieces coming over the next few weeks—and one ‘zine compiling our service journalism work about the Kentucky Public Service Commission—so expect a handful of additional (free!) stories to drop in your inbox. I’m also removing all the paywalls from the archive, so if there’s content you missed, it’s ready to read now.
Also, a little housekeeping: If you’re a paid subscriber, make sure you cancel your subscription! (If you haven’t canceled by Friday, I’ll be canceling with a prorated refund on your behalf.)
Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.