Editorial: Should You Pay for Local News?

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The great debate over whether people will pay for news continues as many folks are expressing their frustration when someone posts a link to a story on social media, only to have others be unable to read them because they are behind a paywall.

This is both frustrating for the reader, who cannot read the story, but also frustrating for the news agency because that person does not want to pay for a subscription.

Truth is, I believe subscriptions are stupid for news services. Especially when TV media puts it out for free and you are battling social media and government agencies who now want to play the role of a media company.  There is so much competition for information that news has basically become a commodity. It is hard to get someone to pay a fair price for a commodity.

I believe if someone really wants the information, they will find a way to get it. Rather than fight it, just give it to them in the easiest way possible and hope at some point, they offer up a donation—even just $1 a year.

The purist in me wants everyone to have access to information to ensure we have a more informed community—for a variety of reasons from public safety, elections, and council actions.  But that is not reality. I also believe its my duty to highlight government information that they need to get out to the public.

Many news agencies need subscriptions to supplement loss of advertising revenue–heck I could use a few more advertising partners at the moment. That loss of revenue combined with rising costs have closed more than 2,000 newspapers in the past decade. Now throw in State Assembly Bill 5 and now you have freelancer issues and a problem putting out a high quality product.

This is why advertising revenue are the lifelines of a news publication—print, online, video. When that dries up, companies are forced to shrink or shutdown. This comes back to the data that shows just 1 in 5 people are willing to pay for news.

For example, should my advertising revenue on this site dry up,  I’ll be forced to reduce coverage or just shut it down and do something else. That is just the reality of the situation as in any business if they cannot get customers. After all, the strong will survive. But have no fear, I am not hanging out near the exit sign just yet and am full throttle ahead.

However, I would argue over the coming years, that the number of people who will pay for news will be less than what it is now because of subscription fatigue. Everything seems like its becoming a subscription model.

For example:

  • Amazon Prime Video – $9
  • AppleTV – $4.99
  • Disney+ – $6.99 per month
  • Disney+ & Hulu – $12.99 per month
  • Netflix – $12.99 per month
  • Pandora – $4.99
  • SiriusXM Satellite Radio – $21.00
  • YouTube Premium – $9.99

While each individual package does not seem like a lot, but if you love your entertainment, some combination of these services you are paying over $50 which does not include your TV and internet costs.  Now throw in your phone costs and life just got expensive just for entertainment and information.

Truth is, most people are happy with the amount of content they can receive for free. I refuse to spend my time fighting that fact and instead focus on content to ensure this site is updated multiple times per day–again, hoping one day people will find some value and donate.

What really should begin occurring is news media take the Napa Valley Winegrowers approach and begin to work together to promote the industry as a whole–strength in numbers because why else would a bottle of wine be well over $100 a bottle for almost every winery in the region? News could be the same if each agency begins to work together versus trying to crush one another. This has worked wonders with my partnership with both Claycord and News 24-680.

Finally, I never got into this business to become a millionaire which is why after several years many in the industry go onto public relation jobs, government work, elected official work, etc. In fact, newspaper reporters have been one of the worst jobs to have over the past several years with a median salary of just $38,000 with a projected growth of -8%.

Those numbers do stink, but it is what it is and I still love what I do.

Ultimately, the community deserves to know what is going on and the need for transparency is needed more than ever which his why local news should be free and easy to access for everyone. The real question is will a community support it either through a paywall or donations.

That is a question that will not go away anytime soon.

Support ECT With a Small Donation: A one-time tip of of any amount or a monthly contribution of just $1 is a huge help. To support ECT with a donation, click here.


Mike Burkholder
Publisher of ECT
[email protected]

 


 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I never even thought to donate to you. I will do that now. My only subscription I pay for is The Athletic. Best sports content in one place.

  2. I would not pay for local news. As you pointed out there are so many other places to get the information. I do appreciate this service and wish you many years of success ahead.

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