Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let's be serious

Normally, Additional Jesus is not the place for serious talk. Or good pictures. Even the ones I steal off the web suck. But today I have something to say. Some of it's my opinion, some is from experience. People will disagree, and that's OK. If you do, just be polite about it.

I'm a newspaper journalist, and I feel strongly about newspapers. Partially because it's my livelihood (and my husband's), but also because they have always meant something to me.

As most people probably know, newspapers are struggling immensely right now. They have been especially hard-hit in the recession because they are supported nearly entirely by advertising revenue. The measly 50 cents you pay for a copy is not really what keeps your local newspaper afloat. When businesses struggle, advertising drops, newspapers shrink and some of them go under. Our nation has lost many newspapers over the past few years.

Most newspapers have an online presence. Mine, the Albuquerque Journal, has long been a pay site. You get it free with your subscription, or you can pay for an online only subscription. We have been lambasted for that, but more and more newspapers are starting to use or consider a paywall for their content. Results have been mixed, admittedly.

People get up in arms over the idea of paying for news coverage. Why? Is there an obligation for news organizations to provide everything for free? If the print side (or TV side) is faring well, then maybe a paper can afford to subsidize a website. But articles like this one suggest the imminent death of print journalism and at the same time criticize the concept of expecting people to pay for the news online.

Newspapers are a business, folks. They can't provide quality reporting, writing, photography, design and editing without money. And while people are quick to dismiss journalists as biased, unless you've worked in a newsroom, you have no idea how much time is spent discussing fairness and balance. You have no idea how often stories are held so we can make sure every detail is right and that every side has a chance to comment. You also may not realize that one minute we're answering a phone call with someone screaming about how liberal we are, and the next caller is angry about how conservative we are.

Online advertising has not paid off for us. It doesn't bring the same kind of revenue as print advertisements.

So who will provide your news? There is always the TV network news with its 10 second coverage of stories. Or the 'round-the-clock cable networks. You're paying for that news, by the way, with your cable service, although those networks depend on advertising. The point being, you don't get cable news for free -- you have to pay for something.

Do you think you can rely on neighborhood bloggers to provide reliable journalism? I'm sure some/many have integrity, but who do they have to answer to? What is the true motivation behind a community activist running a blog? Can you trust that an effort has been made to be unbiased? And if they are providing "news" for free, how are they making a living? So they have a day job, and now you're relying on a local blogger who is just doing a bit of reporting for fun on the side. And this is how you want to get your information? Further, without any real clout, just how much can be accomplished? Government agencies and others figuratively (and perhaps literally) slam the door in journalists' faces all the time. If you don't have the clout, readership and financial backing to do something about it, what will you accomplish?

I'm certainly not saying that all bloggers lack integrity or seriousness, but I hate to see this as the new standard in news reporting. I don't think people are really thinking hard about what their local newspaper really does for them, whether they buy it or not. When the biggest newspaper in the state does in-depth investigative reporting, people get nervous. Unethical behaviors in government get revealed. Changes get made. People get prosecuted. Taxpayers stop getting ripped off, at least in that particular instance.

Do you think that a neighborhood blogger will have the clout to dig things up, get people to talk, open up a big case? Do they have laywers who can step in when government agencies illegally refuse to share public documents? What about when someone accused them of libel? Do you understand what will happen when you don't have newspapers to make things happen? Are you really going to rely on 25 second TV news reports to make people accountable?

On a human interest front, we have countless stories of people in desperate trouble getting much-needed aid from the community after being featured in the paper. Abused women who have fled with their children and are homeless, jobless and carless are gifted vehicles and other help. Babies dying of brain tumors (you can't see that if you're not a subscriber. Quit yer whining. That's my friend's baby) get much-needed financial help with medical bills. Decades old mysteries are unearthed and solved. These are all real stories from the Albuquerque Journal. People's lives have changed because of publicity.

If you're a looney or a drunk, who will you call in the middle of the night with weird, random questions if the newspaper isn't there anymore? If you're not a looney but can't figure out those crazy internets, who will you call to find out how to contact this place or that place? You'd have to learn to use a phone book. I'm joking here, but seriously, people call us when they can't get anywhere with the government or the police on a problem, and that opens up doors for them.

I know the younger generations take newspapers for granted, but I hope everyone will really stop to think what will happen if they go. They aren't all just going to turn into online publications and give you the news for free. Quality journalism costs money, and although journalists are used to living on peanuts, peanuts cost money, too. Sure, without printing, production costs will go down. But regardless of how things play out, expect to pay for your news if you want to get it from a quality institution, and don't expect it to be as comprehensive. Don't expect 60-inch investigative pieces; the staff left probably won't have time for those. Community news will pay the price.

Hey, ya'll. This blog is not typically a bummer. So please, go forth and have a Merry Christmas. Sometimes, maybe you could stop and pick up a newspaper. Smell the ink and enjoy the pages. Wrap up some ornaments in it after the holidays. Enjoy it while you can!


Emily said...

I'm not a journalist, but I do agree with you! Our local paper is a paid subscription only, and we have bought it at times and not bought it at other times. Either way, though, I do not think it should be free!

theperfectnose said...

eh I agree. The first thing I'll do when I get a job (I'm a sorta student, in the dead zone between thesis submission and waiting for results/ feedback) will be to buy an online subscription to the nytimes. I live in Melb, Australia and when my partner went to the US for a conference he brought me back 2 weeks of the nytimes. It was weird reading it without comments, trackback, link outs and slider recommendations..
PS your commenting section doesn't work for non-Google users. You might want to install disqus so that the rest of us can comment, get instant alerts on comment responses and NOT have to play the hideous recaptha game of incipient blindness from reading screwy text. You don't have to worry about comment spam with disqus, it has akismet (same as wordpress) to kill spammers for you (well kill them virtually).