Sunday, April 19, 2015

Support your Local Newspaper

Sound-off callers complain that subscription prices have risen; and friends and acquaintances have told me either "We don't read the Sun-News!" (as if only the New York Times would do) or "We only take the paper these days for your column."

Newspapers, including this one, will become extinct some day. They're an economically endangered species. When the Sun-News is gone you may realize that despite its faults (and with current financial constraints, how would there not be faults?), it gave us something of value, a convenient way to have some degree of community dialogue. Cities now are too big for town hall meetings. There's a lot of "minor" local news that keeps us aware of what's going on with others in our community. Through a rich variety of columns, plus letters-to-the-editor and Sound Off's, we speak up -- or hear what others think -- about community issues, needs, developments, and politics.

The editors try hard to print columns from a variety of points of view. Not just their views, which often differ from mine. I loathe a large percentage of the columns printed here. I read them, to keep in touch with what others are saying, and because some of the writers are friends; but often I thoroughly disagree. But I share the editors' belief that printing many points-of-view is appropriate.

Sure, the Internet will provide in various ways some of what we get from the Sun-News, although we may have to look in seven or eight places. Dozens of places, if you think about all the various groups and events we spot in the Sun-News without even trying.

Bottom-line: I want to support keeping a newspaper here. That's one reason I bust my butt writing weekly columns. It's my small bit to keep this newspaper in our lives; and, while it survives, to express opinions or expose problems or provide information or just portray neat local people and sights and events.

However, the facts aren't encouraging. Newspaper readership declined rapidly in 2006-10, partly because of the economy and partly because of the rapid increase of mobile consumption. Since then the decline has been more modest, but it could hit another steep spot.

Do you wonder why the subscription price went up? Consider that if the paper's press run declines from 60,000 to 50,000, the advertiser's CPM (cost per thousand pairs of eyes) goes down by around 16%. But the newspaper's costs don't. The paper prints fewer papers, but still has to pay its reporters, lay out and print newspapers, pay the folks who sell ads or clean the office, and pay the mortgage and real-estate taxes. Someone will still drive around your neighborhood, even if there are 250 subscribers there, not 300. The paper's expenses fall, but not nearly at the same rate as its income.

A new jolt to the economy and a new disruptive technology for disseminating news electronically, and the Sun-News might be solely online sooner than you think.

That won't be the end of the world. The Sun-News has a strong online presence already. And as a New York Times editor wrote, “We don't need newspapers, we need journalism.”

But I'm concerned. Newspapers nurture journalists, even in tough times. Some percentage of the population isn't real facile with the Internet.

Continuing to subscribe to the paper seems a good thing to do. (Fortunately, newspapers can be composted after reading; even so, sustainability issues could expedite the demise of print journalism.) Others who agree should think of themselves as members of something – not mere subscribers – and the paper should encourage that. We all have an interest in keeping the newspaper alive – in print.
[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 19 April, 2015  (I think it has appeared or will appear in some other area newspapers, and it'll also be up on the KRWG-TV website shortly.)].
[Last night at supper with friends we discussed this subject.  A friend was thinking of subscribing to the newspaper again.  "On-line or print?" someone asked.  We discussed environmental concerns, including the fact that newspaper can be composted.  Even so, I'll admit that if I didn't think newspapers were important, environmental concerns might change my thinking.  .There's an inconsistency there, nagging at me.  But until we start dealing with our environmental problems seriously, newspapers are small potatoes in that game.   Look at Coca-cola, which is said to use as much water as one-quarter of the world's population, and has wantonly contributed to an epidemic of diabetes for profit.  But that sounds like the start of another column."]
[Meanwhile, good for the Sun-News.  An imperfect newspaper?  You betcha.  One where serious but underpaid people try their best to report the news fairly and accurately?  Yep.  One that airs views as diverse as Neal Hooks's, Jim Harbison's, Walt's, and mine, plus others?  Yes.  I do think the Rio Grande Foundation shows up way too often in the pages of the Sun-News, and wish Walt and Sylvia ought to consider foisting that on us less frequently.   I also miss Claudia Ortiz, who was the best of us, but so do the Sun-News editors, as far as I know.  But my point is, they make an honest and competent effort, under difficult circumstances and with a limited budget, to create a product that will amuse and interest us, and maybe help us keep in touch with things that matter]

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