Lamentations Don’t Pay the Bills – You Get What You’re Willing to Pay For

By Jay Menard,

With yesterday’s announcement of the Postmedia/Torstar swap of 41 newspapers, with the intent of shutting them down, the online world was above with lamentations about the loss of community content, the unfairness of the decision, and allegations of big business and corporate greed ruling the roost.

The thing is, Instead of wringing our collective hands after the fact, maybe we should be more willing to reach into our collective wallets beforehand.

Or, in short, if you want good, community content, pay for it.

Does the traditional model for newspapers work in today’s environment? No. But that’s got little to do with the publishers and everything to do with the consumers. It’s easy to blame the “suits” for being greedy and thinking only of their shareholders. That’s the facile answer. It’s much tougher, but way more honest, to place the blame where it largely belongs — on ourselves and our irrational sense of value.

Many want their media free or at almost no cost. The challenge is that it costs money to do journalism. Good journalism costs more. I’m not talking about the glorified public relations in which some papers engage, but quality reporting with fact-checking, editors, and a resurrection of proofreaders.

Reading free news, usually from your free social media app, whilst streaming content from your free torrent site. That’s not a sustainable model.

Content costs. And someone has to pay.

People lament about the “lamestream” media, but they’re the only ones with the financial wherewithal to subsidize your desire for free content.

How do you fix it? It’s not a new model — it’s embracing what made the old model work: supporting advertising efforts and paying for content.

It’s hard to sell ads in a newspaper. I know, I deal with it regularly. “Why should I pay for an ad in the paper, when I can get one cheaper on-line?” It’s a tough question to answer — but it’s fundamental to the issue. And then the devalued cost of on-line advertising just compounds the problem. Advertorial-type content helps, but only if it leads to conversions.

So how can you help? Shop at those stores that advertise in papers or other media outlets you support. Make sure you let them know that’s why you’re coming (a simple, “I saw your ad in the paper,” or, even better, “I’m shopping here because you support local content. Thank you.” would do wonders). Tell their competitors that you’re shopping elsewhere because they don’t support local media.

Don’t complain about the so-called “mainstream” — support the culture you want. Otherwise those with the biggest wallets will create the content for the largest possible audience, just to remain profitable. If there’s no money in niche, don’t expect companies to go out of their way to source that content, just to fuel your desires. After all, you’re not paying for it, so what’s the incentive?

For example, it’s not that there’s no great alternative theatre in London; it’s just that it costs money to put on a play. And when nobody shows up, someone’s taking a bath. How do you fix it? Don’t just go to that one play your friend puts on every three years — spend $20 a couple of times a year and try something new. So if we can’t even support the artists, forget sustaining an arts-focused publication. I’ve written for a few and, trust me, the people who put this together did it as a labour of love — and lost way too much money doing so.

You want local news? Subscribe to your not-so-free press. Give them a steady stream of funds. There have been countless weeklies and glossy publications in the city — buy ads in them if you own a business, support those businesses that do buy ads. Had that been the focus, instead of expecting everything for free, maybe some of those amazing publications of the past wouldn’t have had to fold. If you like an on-line news source, click on an ad or two — maybe even buy something during that click once in a while.

And, for the love of everything good, please don’t expect people to contribute to a curated blog without paying a living wage just to satisfy your need for continued free content. Take a look at what publications like BlogTO pays.

I have done work with a few of the publications that have closed down. I have friends and colleagues that work at others. It’s not enough to say we value them in concept; we have to show that value through financial — not moral — support.

In the end, it all comes down to dollars and common sense. Content costs. Handwringing doesn’t pay the bills. And if we’re not willing to shell out money for the content we consume, well, then we’ll get what we pay for.

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