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    By Sara Havens

    It was just another day when I walked through the door of Insider Louisville’s office inside the First Trust Centre downtown. But when I walked out eight hours later, an air of uncertainty permeated the hallways.

    That day was Thursday, July 25, and for most of the morning and early afternoon, my fellow writers — four Louisville journalists (there were six of us total, but one was on vacation that week) — went about our jobs as we normally did, publishing about one article an hour starting at 5:45 a.m. As culture editor, I had a few arts features and event roundups to work on, and I was expecting at least two pieces from our small but stable pool of freelancers.

    My boss mentioned she’d be out that afternoon for a board meeting, but that hoisted no flags. Ever since Insider had become a nonprofit in late 2017, our board met regularly in the conference room. After their meetings, they’d always stop by and say hello. On this day, nobody did.

    Insider, which began in 2010 as an “insider’s scoop” — part hearsay reporting, part full-on journalism — had transformed from blog to online news outlet in the span of three years. One man’s vision was bought by another’s startup dreams, and thus the for-profit Insider was formed in 2013, staffed and fueled by local journalists who craved a stable work environment. Insider assembled a team of editorial and digital talent and became a source of local news, covering local business, real estate, public policy, education, health and culture.

    Reporter Joe Sonka and I both came off the heels of long stints at LEO Weekly, and we were grateful for the job security. Besides, we had more than 150,000 monthly readers, and an owner who was committed to making a viable business model. After four years, however, it was evident that we could not create a solid foundation with advertising, sponsored posts, events, etc. So we followed the route of a few choice national outlets: nonprofit.

    It was a few minutes before 4 p.m. when I heard the conference door open and the sound of feet shuffling toward the exit. I had a question for my editor about the morning’s lead story, but when I got to her office, she was gone. Somewhat confused and irritated — so what story does she want to go next? — I ran into another co-worker, in marketing, who looked as gray as our office walls. That’s when I first felt the heavy cloud of uneasiness swelling through my body. Her boss, who attended the meeting, had acted strange afterward, and he, too, had left for the day in a hurry. The co-worker said he seemed distant, avoided eye contact. The few of us left at the office swapped details about how upper management acted after the meeting. We began to panic.

    I tried to remain calm until I knew the facts, but at happy hour, I never shook the feeling that something was wrong. And then the texts started coming from co-workers. Apparently, keeping secrets in an office full of journalists is damn near impossible, as a couple of my resourceful cohorts unearthed some information from notes left on desks in plain sight. One scribbling read: “cost analysis of shutdown.” Another: “articles of dissolution.”

    Despite the gin, my stomach dropped.

    But this is journalism, and it shouldn’t be a shock if we’re looking at national trends. Newsrooms have shrunk, roles have consolidated, respected publications have shuttered.

    The next morning, an email from my boss came bright and early. It was for a meeting first thing. We found out Insider would cease publication on Aug. 7. We had to be out of the office by July 31. Our only severance would be unused vacation days.

    Since then, I’ve come across many people who express disappointment in the closing. They want to know what happened. In my opinion, there are a few reasons. First, we worked in beautiful offices draped in our signature Florida-orange color and furnished with decor that was both edgy and conventional — things we couldn’t afford. Second, we had accrued debt from when the organization was for-profit, which makes me wonder if we ever had a fighting chance. Third, we didn’t receive some large grants we had been awarded previously — most notably, the $500,000 grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation that we nabbed in 2018. And finally, not everyone was willing to pay for local journalism, although I was blown away by the support and donations we did receive. It takes a lot to staff a newsroom of seven full-time journalists, two full-time marketers, one part-time accountant and about a dozen freelancers.

     As for my former co-workers, most have thankfully found other jobs. Two went to the Courier-Journal, one to WDRB, and the others are beefing up their freelance portfolios. For me, I’m trying my hand at bourbon marketing for Mint Julep Tours and continuing to freelance and keep up with my Bar Belle blog on the side.

    I’m proud of the work I did for Insider, especially in creating one of the city’s first bourbon beats. I also believe covering Louisville’s thriving arts scene was one of our best attributes, and it was something we put a healthy freelance budget toward.

    We need good journalism now more than ever.

    Insider taught us it isn’t free.


    This originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine.Read 2019 from A to Z.

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