News becoming a commodity with a price…

January 17, 2010

I’d much rather get my news from a newspaper that I can read at my pace and in comfort, rather than the computer, on which I feel rushed because I’m mobile and have only so many minutes, or however they measure it, to use before I go over my allotted time on my mobile contract. But I’m glad I have the computer because it is instant access to the latest news and there is more of it — most of the time anyway.

Newspapers have less news in them these days and they are getting expensive. If I’m going to shell out a dollar on weekdays or two or more dollars on Sunday, I expect to get a lot of material, and I am interested in hard news.

But there is a problem on the horizon, or actually it has already reared its ugly head. And it was quite predictable from the first time I ever heard about all the free info you can get via the internet. More and more sites are demanding money — no pay, access to our site, no way.

(well if that isn’t irritating. I had much more written below, but I guess I hit the wrong key and wiped it all out and I can’t get it back. Reminds me of the time when I wrote one of my original computer-assisted news stories and lost a 40-column-inch piece of work. I had to start all over.)

I was madly surfing the web this morning for a comprehensive story on the latest situation in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, but everything I found seemed to be sidebars (stories dealing with one aspect of the main story). With the mobile charges in my mind, I felt pressured. I tried to pull up a story on the Washington Post website, but all I got was the teaser and was informed that I would have to pay, to subscribe, to get the full story. Then I read on the Huffington Post site (still free for now) that the New York Times is close to charging for ALL of its online content.

I note that the Wall Street Journal charges for much of its online content, but not all. I was able to get a quite informative story concerning the Haiti situation via the WSJ (for free) the other day.

As a former journalist, I should not complain about having to pay for news. I make more money driving a truck than I ever made as a reporter. Many of the newspaper owners I worked for considered news to be a necessary piece of overhead, something that filled the spaces around the advertising. If you are one of my former employers reading this, of course you are the exception.

With a copy of a daily newspaper costing as much as a dollar or more or even two or more on Sundays, I would expect to get a lot of news for my money — but not necessarily so. With the shrinking advertising content, the size of newspapers and the size of their staffs and other news resources has shrunk as well.

I used to ponder whether a new business model for newspapers could not be created in which the news was the product for sale. Actually I think that was the now ancient historic model. So Could it be resurrected?

I once read a story in my local newspaper that said its original publisher would not accept paid advertising at first. Once the newspaper was more well established, paid advertising was accepted. I noted this to the current managing editor, who now presides over a once proud newspaper that now kowtows to the few advertisers it has left, and even tells its readers it cannot afford to cover all the news. He is relatively new in town and said that he thought he had heard such a story, but I got the impression that he categorized it more in the realm of mythology. I also mentioned that his newspaper once had a much larger staff. He laughed and said those days are long gone. He’s big on the online part of their newspaper and sees that as its only and possibly bright future.

 

I recall selling newspapers on the street back in the late 1950s for ten cents per copy. That was the going price for most daily newspapers well into the 70s, as I recall. Heck even in the early 60s the old Sacramento Union sold for five cents per copy (and probably was not worth it — at least the Union I saw in later years when it tried to make a comeback was not).

I think the long and the short of it is that I may see what I always thought should happen. News will attain a much higher value.

Trouble is: will I be able to afford it?