Journalism’s future doesn’t sit behind a paywall

By Sara Bloomberg

The Guardsman

We work hard here at The Guardsman.

We don’t get paid because we’re students, but we should.

All reporters, photojournalists, editors, graphic designers and publishers should get paid.

However, newspapers are struggling with declining revenues and, unfortunately, the bottom line cannot be ignored.

Newspapers generate a bulk of their revenue through advertising, which has declined dramatically since the early 2000s and circulation numbers have dropped slightly, too.

That’s only part of the problem, though.

Deregulation

Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated the media industry and demolished a system that had been cultivating independently owned companies with increasing numbers of women and people of color in positions of leadership, even ownership.

Ever since then, conglomerates have been scooping up these once-independent media companies and consolidating them. Take a good look at the front pages of several Bay Area newspapers on any given day and you might notice that they all have the exact same cover story.

In the name of profit margins, the Bay Area has lost many of it’s media worker jobs since 2000.

The San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News combined employ around 700 fewer people—a 70 percent decline—than they did in 2000, according to a 2011 study by the North Valley Job Training Consortium.

Newspapers need revenue to operate, and the Chronicle—owned by the Hearst Corporation—recently decided to cut off digital readers unless they pay.

It’s called a paywall and it took many people by surprise because the newspaper didn’t give its readers advance notice.

Actually, the Chronicle did announce the commencement of the paywall but they did it from behind the paywall, which Jim Romenesko—a media watchdog—quickly reported on his blog.

Thanks for the heads up, Chron!

Overnight, readers were blocked from reading San Francisco’s largest daily newspaper for free.

The Chronicle also raised the daily rate for non-subscription weekday papers from $0.75 to $1.00 and slapped bright notices on their sidewalk stands proclaiming, “Only $1.00!”

Let’s be clear. People should buy newspapers.

In the land of locavores and “buy local” campaigns, supporting local media seems to get overlooked. The reality is, though, that not everyone can afford to pay the ever increasing subscription rates.

Yes, all those Silicon Valley commuters who are driving up the cost of living in San Francisco can afford the rate increases. Ron Conway—founder of the “angel investors” network, a group of uber wealthy Bay Area folks that scratch each others’ backs—and Mark Zuckerberg (who now owns a home in the Mission, didn’t ya know?) can both afford to pay.

Digital divide

Who will be affected the most? Poor, young people.

Let’s focus on people, on 18-34-year-olds.

They make up 33 percent of total newspaper readers nationwide, according to a 2012 study by the Newspaper Association of America.

The same study also showed that 48 percent of 18-34-year-olds get their news exclusively from online sources.

U.S. Census projections estimate the number of people over 64 years old will double by 2060 (and will comprise around 20 percent of the population overall) and that total population growth is slowing through that period.

Currently, people over 64 years old are nine percent of total newspaper readership, according to the newspaper association’s study.

Doubled, that’d still only be 18 percent of total readers.

However, in 50 years, today’s 18-year-olds will be 68 years old.

By then, digital-only and multiplatform reading will surely have increased. Remember, the octogenarians of tomorrow are today’s youth.

Other media outlets have had to grapple with the same dilemma.

The New York Times also has a paywall but it also has a much more reasonable compromise—anyone can click on 10 articles of their choosing per month for free.

The loophole is that if you change computers or use a different device (such as a cell phone), the count starts over.

Despite it’s limitations, the New York Time’s homepage is accessible to everyone. The Chronicle’s homepage isn’t.

In an effort to find a compromise, the Chronicle allows you to read full articles online for free only if you access it through a link posted by someone else who is a paid subscriber.

It’s a good start—nothing is more infuriating than clicking on a link, only to find that access is blocked because you’re not a subscriber, (ok, maybe there are things more worthy of rage but you get the point.)

However, the Chronicle is killing the potential for any number of articles to go viral through Twitter and Facebook by not allowing broader access to the entire site.

Target audience

The newspaper industry should take a lesson from Big Tobacco: hook ‘em while they’re young.

Marketing cigarettes to children was a despicable and deliberate effort by the tobacco industry to increase sales. Thankfully, that practice was outlawed in 1998 after more than 40 states filed a joint lawsuit against the industry.

The tobacco companies know that establishing brand loyalty (as well as an addiction) while customers are young ensures that those same consumers are more likely to continue purchasing their products into adulthood.

Unlike cigarettes, newspapers are not chemically addictive and being a “news junkie” is not hazardous to your health.

Give students discounts.

Heck, give schools—both K-12 and higher education institutions—bulk subscription rates. The Chronicle will make a profit just through sheer quantity of sales.

City College, alone, has a population of 85,000 students at its various campuses. Imagine if they all had access to the Chronicle online while at school.

You deserve to get paid, Chronicle, but don’t alienate us. We are your future.

Follow Sara on Twitter: @BloomReports