Editorial: News isn’t free

There may be a few free items in life, but from a meal to an article of clothing to a gallon of gas, someone pays for it somewhere down the line.

The same goes for news.

We have had a few complaints on the fact that we charge for our online content in recent months. We don?t fault people for complaining, as people have gotten used to reading news for free and take the process for granted.

As most of you know, we put almost all of our content up online as a subscriber service. Basically, if you don?t have a subscription, you don?t get the content.

Subscribers get a log in. And for all you subscribers, if you have difficulty with this process, please call our office at 316-281-7899 or e-mail us at Adam@Harveycountynow.com. Same goes if you?re having trouble buying a subscription online.

All of our staff are talented individuals, and we put a huge amount of time, energy and effort into the paper. We believe there?s value in our work. If you don?t think your work has value, you should find something else to do.

So to read most of our content, people have to pay less than a dollar a week for a year?s subscription.

We gain subscriptions weekly from our website by people who want access to stories. We generate more money doing it that way than we would an open site relying on digital advertising generated on web traffic. Despite the subscription service, we still get a good number of visits a month, which allows us to sell digital ads. Still, if we were looking for a website to pay the bills, the lights wouldn?t be on very long. Advertisers pay far less for digital ads than print ads. Many find print ads more effective.

For us and so many other newspapers?The Hutchinson News, The Topeka Capitol Journal, The Wichita Eagle, The Kansas City Star?asking people to pay for our content makes financial sense.

This presents a significant shift from the past 20 or so years and probably one of the biggest mistakes in journalism history.

Once upon a time, we like to think that the 10 grand pooh-bahs of journalism met in a room to discuss a new series of tubes called the Internet.

And in the meeting they decided to put out their new websites, which someone was hurriedly coding in the basement, for free. The idea was that they had to pay nothing for paper and ink, giving them an unlimited amount of content space to sell advertising on, paying for the production cost of the news. That would have worked if online ads were as profitable as print ads. Many in the market just want a return on investment and find print a more effective marketing tool.

That one decision closed newsrooms across the country and put thousands of journalists out of work. All of the sudden, all news was free. Why pay to read it here, when it is given to you there? Why pick up a paper with a national story when you could just go online and find it charge free?

And today that is why you will read about smaller local papers doing better, and medium-sized papers having difficulties. Basically, people will still pay for local stories as they can only get them in one place. TV stations aren?t rushing to Newton to cover a city workshop, for instance, about a dog park. They aren?t coming to Newton to do a feature on an offbeat job. They aren?t coming to Newton to write a story about a bowling team going to state.

That?s how we make it in local journalism. We provide quality, important local content that people couldn?t get elsewhere. And, to do so, we ask people to pay for it.

Newton has been a great community in that regard. So many people and so many businesses do support us that we can operate on solid financial ground. It?s been great to see our first six-month renewal letters coming in to the office as renewals for a year or two-year subscription.

Still, we occasionally smile through our teeth when someone tells us that they love the paper and so do their neighbors after they give their paper to them. If someone likes our paper enough and wants to share it with their friends, we say good. We?re doing our job, and it?s good people want to expose others to our work.

But we later suggest that perhaps they encourage that neighbor or sibling to buy a subscription as well, if they can afford it.

People have been doing just that in most cases, and March has been one of our strongest months to date.

Still, we thought it worth expressing just how exactly news gets written. .

Someone has to get paid to put it together. Even the TV stations that put it out for free make the money back from either a large audience or TV advertising. We?re not a non-profit. We?re not an agency supported by government subsidies or nifty tax breaks.

We?re a business. Our end goal is far more community-minded than just making money. But we journalists are able to put out a strong product because we go out and sell subscriptions and because our ad staff is out there busting it every single day to make this little experiment a go.

So, regardless, thanks for taking the time to read, and thank you all again for the strong support we?ve experienced so far.