July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

COLUMN: Surveys on Gazette’s website annoying but necessary

I’ve heard a few complaints — thankfully, very few — about the Google surveys that appeared on The Gazette’s website starting last month.

You have my sympathy. I don’t like being asked if I’ve purchased a breakfast sandwich from 7-Eleven in the last four weeks before I can read one of our stories.

But a few seconds of my time is better than the alternative — a pay wall.

I’ve had a lot of heated arguments with newspaper colleagues over that issue.

They tell me newspapers made a horrible mistake by not charging to access our websites. They say it’s idiocy to give away the news.

I tell them we’ve always given it away — and demanding people pay for stories will just mean fewer readers.

Hear me out.

One of the first things I learned as a novice reporter at a daily newspaper was that the quarter dropped in the newsbox — yes, it was only 25 cents in the early 1980s — and the buck-and-change collected weekly by the kids on their routes paid for the newsprint, ink and, maybe, the cost of delivery.

My salary and that of the other reporters, editors, photographers and artists — the total cost of gathering and reporting the news — came from advertising revenue.

It’s local businesses that pay for the news — not readers.

That’s the way it’s been for more than 100 years — ever since the birth of the “penny press,” when publishers discovered there was more money to be made selling readers to advertisers than news to readers.

And that’s why I’m mystified so many leaders in the newspaper industry want to start charging for news posted on the Internet.

At first hearing, their argument sounds good. But what pay wall proponents forget is that people who get their news online already are paying more than newspaper readers pay: First they must buy a computer or smartphone, then pay a monthly fee for Internet access.

Those costs are the exact equivalent of a newspaper subscription in that they pay for the cost of delivery and presentation of the news — but not the cost of producing the news.

Will online readers be willing to pay even more for news?

I fear they won’t — at least not in sufficient numbers. I think too many will balk at what they’ll consider double billing.

That’s why I’ll put up with Google surveys as a better way to help make up for the decline in print advertising that has plagued newspapers for more than a decade.

Of course, there’s an even better way to ensure The Gazette continues to provide the in-depth news coverage readers expect — take out a home subscription.

You won’t have to answer any questions or press any buttons. And your newspaper will magically appear each morning.

The cost?

Two bucks a week — less than the price of that breakfast sandwich Google was asking about.

David Knox is the managing editor of The Gazette. He can be reached at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.

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