Newspapers have long run on a peculiar business model.
People buy the paper mostly for the news, but what they pay for the product covers only a fraction of the actual cost. Traditionally, advertising generated the other 80 to 90 percent.
That imbalance always resulted in an inherent tension in the executive offices, where any expenditure for news coverage was viewed with suspicion, especially when few of the publishers – the top local executive – came from the news-gathering side.
The rest of the operation included the composing room and related departments that manufactured the actual pages that then went to the presses, plus the “mail room” where supplements were inserted and the bundles were arranged for distribution, the circulation department, and then the ad sales reps, accounting, community services/promotion, and human resources. Especially accounting. In more recent decades, the computer techs assumed their own role.
For a bit of perspective, go to a store and buy an artist’s newsprint sketchpad and then compare its cost and the amount of paper against what the typical paper carries. You’ll see what a bargain the daily paper has been. What you pay for the news essentially covers the cost of getting it from the end of the press to the place you read it.
So this is how things ran until the Internet came along. And then, for a host of reasons, publishers began putting websites up and readers began getting the news without having to view any of the surrounding advertisements that were paying the bills. That, in itself, was a recipe for disaster.
Curiously, long before the arrival of the Internet, I’d noticed that what the readers paid for a paper would be sufficient to staff a newsroom and its supporting services. Leap ahead, and you can see that if users would pay for their local news online, you could create journalism that would not have the advertisers lurking in the corners. Unfortunately, online users have become spoiled and rarely pay for anything. Attempts at firewalls, as we’ve seen, have also failed.
At the moment, the future of American journalism looks grim. And that’s bad news for our political structure and the lives of our communities themselves.
To find out more about Hometown News or to obtain your own copy, go to my page at Smashwords.com.