It’s seems so obvious to the public that businesses need to make a profit that we rarely question it—if ever. So, as our major newspaper in Rochester, NY ducks behind a pay wall and limits readers of local news to paid subscribers, we think little of it. But this move by the Democrat and Chronicle could be a major game changer for the dissemination of important news for the Rochester region.
Gannett to introduce new subscription model CEO Gracia Martore, speaking at the company’s first investors’ day event in New York City, said the new model should boost revenue by $100 million a year starting in 2013. For the first time, some consumers of Gannett websites will pay for access once they reach a threshold of usage. “We will begin to restrict some access to non-subscribers,” Bob Dickey, head of community publishing for Gannett, told Forbes magazine. Users will be able to read from five to 15 articles for free each month, depending on the newspaper website, he said. (February 22, 2012) Democrat and Chronicle
Requiring folks to pay for local news that was previously free will limit our ability to have an informed citizenry. Without an informed public we don’t have a Democracy. Without an informed public we cannot act rationally on issues threatening our way of life, like Climate Change.
It’s not as if the Democrat and Chronicle is the only way our public can get local news. There are other local media, but few newspapers in a town that used to have a thriving competitive print media. But things have changed. The economy has changed. The media has changed. Many already strapped for cash will opt out of reading a local news source with potential critical information about what is going on around them.
Rochester, NY’s Democrat and Chronicle is one of the few print media sources remaining in our area with the resources to investigate and report on long-standing issues like our environment. Some issues like Climate Change cannot be absorbed in entertaining sound bites on TV and radio. This must be understood in the context of the present media crisis, which has left the public gorged with useless information and starved for good information. See Robert McChesney and John Nichols’ on "The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again" for a great overview.
Although aggregators of news stories—blogs, social media, and other sites that link to original content—probably drive media nuts, it is critical in our times to connect the dots to important news when so much information is moleculing about. The reason is that we need to find a sense of priorities in a time of Climate Change. If important news goes off-line to many citizens, we lose those critical threads. You can live not knowing which sports team is ahead, but you cannot thrive on a planet that is continually warming. Until we find our footing and come up with a way to report on critical matters in such a way that everyone can access, pay walls will thwart that objective.
In their book, McCheseny and Nichols come up with many pay models for media starving for cash. The US Post Office, they point out, gave all newspapers a tax break so various points of view could disseminate throughout our nascent country. There are ways.
At present we are saddled with an insane media paradigm where the rich can communicate with everyone, but those with important information cannot even reach the rich or the poor.
That’s not good for New York State and Rochester. With Climate Change will come many Likely Changes that we must adapt to. In order to do that, we need a public who understands this issue, and that means more access to the news, not less.