Hemig: Freedom of the press isn’t free
April 11, 2014
As I mentioned in an earlier column, as your new publisher, I've been asked certain questions pretty consistently.
A popular topic is why there is a subscription fee to read stories published on The Union's website, TheUnion.com. Some people seem convinced that everything on the Internet should be free, that charging for stories is wrong.
Some believe we should offer certain stories for free, such as community safety, crime-related articles or political information. One person went as far as saying that they "already pay for Internet service, so why should they pay for stories from The Union?"
Considering the amount of questions I've received related to this topic, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain why it's important that freedom of the press isn't "free."
Whether it’s print or online, our goal is to provide our community with information that helps improve our lives.
Similar to our print product, TheUnion.com needs funding to maintain the level of community coverage we have come to expect. Without some means of revenue we can't pay our reporters, who live in this community, participate in local events and go to local meetings to discover and report on what happens here.
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Like any newspaper and associated website, we use subscriptions and advertising to pay for the journalism that's important to a strong community.
Our printed newspaper has used this model for many years … 150 years, to be exact.
It's hard to argue with a business model that has worked for 150 years and that seems to be what most customers want. And while we could try to force our advertisers to bear the entire cost of delivering the daily news, many of our local businesses are just trying to make ends meet, so that's a tough sell. Increasing ad rates can translate to higher costs for products and services. Readers would likely pay, regardless.
And The Union isn't the only newspaper website moving this direction. As an industry, many other publications are either now charging for content or in the process of transitioning to a paid subscription model.
At a recent Newspaper Association of America Media Exchange conference, it was reported that 70 percent of U.S. newspaper websites are now paid sites. And current trends suggest this will increase to 85-90 percent within the next few years.
As we look into a digital future, we have to learn from the past and move onward. Charging for local stories is the best way to keep our local journalism alive.
The Union has an important responsibility to cover what happens in Nevada County. We have a responsibility to keep local government in check. We need to report on issues, such as crime and public safety. We need to celebrate local heroes and people who contribute locally. And we need to share information about services and businesses that support our community. If we don't, who will?
The Union newspaper and website reach more people in Nevada County than any other form of media, more than 30,000 people daily. We owe it to these people to maintain our commitment to provide the news. And with a newsroom that has 194 years of collective journalism experience, we have the wisdom, integrity and ethics to provide fair and consistent news and information better than anyone else in this wonderful county.
Wrap all that up and combine the very low price of either the print or online delivery, and it's actually an economical deal. An introductory print and website combination subscription is $11.95 per month, and our web-only offering right now is $10.50 per month. That's about 35 cents per day — less than the price of a single postal stamp — to enjoy stories and photos online from a staff with nearly two centuries of journalism experience and living and breathing Nevada County news and information.
I view this as a steal. But it's not just about money.
Our goal is to get information into your hands easily. Whether it's print or online, our goal is to provide our community with information that helps improve our lives.
We make the price tag reasonable with the hope that everyone who cares about our neighborhoods, our town and our community will support our effort to make this a great place to live by being involved.
I ask you to subscribe, read and contribute to the freedom of the press.
Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 530-477-4299.