The headline made my heart skip a beat: “One week left to save the Norwegian American Weekly.” The last surviving Norwegian American newspaper, out of the hundreds that once existed, the Norwegian American Weekly has a publishing history that reaches back to 1889. In other words, it’s almost as old as Lögberg-Heimskringla. It’s an institution in the Norwegian American community.
On the surface, the Norwegian American Weekly seemed so vibrant and successful. It has eight times as many subscribers as Lögberg-Heimskingla. It enjoys a strong network of contributors, who, with the paper’s staff, produce 47 high-quality issues each year. It attracts more advertising that we do. Yet it was nevertheless in trouble.
At the end of January, the Norwegian American Foundation, which owns the paper, informed the staff that they would be producing its last issue in February. Noting that “tough times for newspapers has led to a decline in subscriptions and advertising,” the paper’s management concluded that they must “announce its immediate closure,” even as they searched for potential buyers to take over its operation.
So the paper turned to Indiegogo in an effort to crowdfund its very survival. By the end of April, NAW had raised $30,051 USD through this innovative new means. And an anonymous benefactor agreed to match contributions up to $5,000. Among the perks offered to contributors were “copies of the ‘final’ issue of the newspaper, which was printed but never distributed during NAW’s brush with death.”
While this crowdfunding campaign appears to have saved the Norwegian American Weekly from immediate closure, and even though subscriptions and advertising sales have increased, the paper is still vulnerable. It is safe for the moment, but it’s not out of the woods.
Needless to say, I wish them well. I hope not only for their survival, but for a new prosperity amidst difficult conditions. There are so many parallels between the Norwegian American Weekly and Lögberg-Heimskringla that it is impossible to avoid viewing NAW’s success or failure as a portent of our own paper’s prospects.
Now, I’m not prepared to push the panic button – but I am watching the dashboard very closely. I’m scanning the road ahead in an effort to discern where Lögberg-Heimskringla must go if it is to serve new generations of readers and help to keep Icelandic culture alive and vital here in North America. These are perilous times for newspapers of all types, but the terrain is especially difficult for small newspapers serving geographically-dispersed eth-nic communities. Our survival is not guaranteed and yet I remain convinced of this paper’s importance and quietly optimistic about its future. Lögberg-Heimskringla (like its august predecessors) has always been a shoestring operation, but we’ve made it work for 129 years. Our past vitality required hard work and devotion; the same is true today.
I think it was wise and prudent for the Norwegian American Weekly to turn to crowdfunding in an effort to secure the additional capital it needed to continue operating. I commend its leaders for refusing to let pride get in the way of doing what needed to be done. By the same token, I don’t want to wait for our paper to have to try the same technique.
L-H relies upon the devoted support of the Icelandic North American community. In return, we strive to offer a high-quality product, which is both entertaining and informative. We need a growing number of people to subscribe to L-H and remember to renew, to buy gift subscriptions for family and friends, or to donate subscriptions to their local library. We need those who can afford it to contribute over and above their subscription price – it’s tax deductible! – either as monthly donors or on a one-time basis. It would be nice if those who have been richly blessed would even remember L-H in their wills.
We need professionals and business people of Icelandic heritage to take out advertisements, which obviously support our publication while letting Icelandic North Americans know about our rich network of commerce. We need golfers to come out to the Icelandic Open each year (and businesses to sponsor holes) and we need beer drinkers to join us on Bjórdagur. We need people with new fundraising ideas to join our cadre of volunteers and contribute their talents.
And we need our readers to dare to write – to send us news stories and features, reminiscences and reflections, which will enrich others precisely because we all love to tell our personal sagas and immerse ourselves in the sagas of others. Yes, we need you. You and your generous support. And we like to think that you may well need what L-H brings to your life. It’s that simple.
Our board chair, Peter Johnson, likes to say that Icelanders are known for “punching above their weight.” That’s how our paper and our other community organizations have prospered in the past, against all odds; that’s how they’ll continue to prosper into the future. We’re not looking for a knock-out punch; like the Norwegian American Weekly, we’re simply looking to stay in the ring.