Wednesday, June 22, 2016

1659 Paying for News

There’s no reason to complain about paying for an online newspaper.  As long as there’s actual news in it.

The so-called business model isn’t going to work without some little tweaks.  Newspapers gave away their stuff for a long time. They’ve trained us to expect something for nothing.  Mostly now we get nothing for something.

So when the Mirror-Leader of Mudpack, California starts offering actual news, maybe people will pay for it.

Some big papers have caught on and are doing relatively well. The New York Times has a lot of stuff. So does the world’s greatest trade paper, the Wall Street Journal. (Yes, there’s real news in the WSJ, yes, it is better now under the Evil Murdoch than it was under the dysfunctional Bancroft family.  Yes it wins Pulitzer Prizes.  But it’s still a trade paper.)

Of course there will be exceptions.  USA Today has real news.  And huge circulation.  But since almost no one pays for the print version, why would anyone pay for the internet posting?

Notice, if you will, that some major papers -- some on the edge of failure -- now are owned by billionaires.  The Washington Post.  The Boston Globe. Prime examples.

This is said to make their viewpoints and coverage subject to the whims of their owners.  Not that that wasn’t always the case.  Freedom of the press kind of depends on whether you own a press in the first place. But the current crop of billionaire owners seems hands off.  At least so far.

Newspapers never really relied on subscribers to pay the freight.  The money was in advertising.  Now, not so much.  So they turn to their customers, readers who previously faced newsstand price increases only when the cost of newsprint rose.

For example, if you buy the Miami Herald on screen and don’t use an ad blocker, you’re inundated with constant interruptions. There are pop ups that are pop-up-blocker-proof.  There are banners.  Annoying little animations that float across a page to distract you.

If you do use an ad blocker, you’re costing the paper the little crumb of revenue it would receive if you saw and -- perish forbid -- clicked on an ad.  Not a great way to make enough to pay the rent.

So the papers sell their buildings and move to cheaper digs.  Those that are chain owned reduce staff by not filling vacancies, firing workers and centralizing operations like graphics and photos.

And they make devil’s bargains with the wire services which then are forced to cut back on coverage.  The Associated Press is a cooperative.  It also is the country’s spinal column of news, without which everyone would be less informed.  The spinal column has a serious slipped disk problem.

And if this continues, so will you.

Today’s Quote: If concentrating on what people want to know means succumbing to direct democratic rule of the sort you can find on the internet, it is a retreat too far. It abandons the social mission in order to serve it.” -- Jack Fuller, former reporter, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune who died Tuesday at age 69. (Quoted in his New York Times obituary.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2016

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