Why our website stories aren’t free

By JOSHUA CAMPBELL,

While it’s understandable for people in this day and age to complain about having to pay for any sort of content on the internet, there is a very good reason why we here at The Columbian-Progress have a paywall on our website.

For what seemed like the one millionth time, I saw a comment on one of our Facebook posts linked to an online story criticizing us for not making the article free to read the other day, and it prompted me to write this.

There is a part of me that understands the frustration — I get blocked by paywalls on other sites regarding stories I want to read as well — but the logical part of me completely understands why paywalls are in place and wishes more would as well.

There is one simple fact that seems to be misunderstood or simply ignored quite a lot: We are running a business. Just like any other business, our newspaper requires funds to operate freely. We have two main sources of income: circulation and advertising.

The whole point of any business is, in fact, to make money. News outlets are no different in that regard, and having more money allows us to be more creative with the coverage we are able to provide as well.

But follow along with me for a moment. When you go to a car dealership, you get to peruse around and look at the different cars. But if you want to take a car home and make it your own, you have to buy it. It’s the same thing with the content we provide. If you are not a subscriber, you get to read the lede of the story on online to get an idea about what the story is about — just like taking a look at a car at a dealership — but in order to read the whole story you have to purchase a subscription — just like you have to purchase a vehicle.

If you don’t consume the local news enough to warrant a subscription, there is a simple and cheap solution. We sell our newspapers all over town for just 75 cents. It costs nearly three times that to buy a 20-ounce soda from the gas station.

It’s no secret that newspapers have been hurt by the spread of news online and through social media, and it is a daunting task to keep a quality newspaper rolling in small-town Mississippi. If we had all of our content online for free, nobody would need to have a subscription. We would go out of business, and there would be no news organization fully dedicated to life in Marion County left.

Richard Kluger, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and wrote for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the New York Herald Tribune, said it best: “Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little close to authoritarianism.”

We’ve also dealt with the idea that we are biased when it comes to the sports teams here in the local high schools, and it also pertains to any other news content that is related to the schools. The thing about that is none of us on the news staff grew up in Marion County. We didn’t go to the schools and have no reason to favor one over another.

Our allegiance is to the truth, and our first job is to provide fair and unbiased news to the citizens of Marion County. Their part in that equation is subscribing to support that important work. We appreciate all of those who do.

If we allowed negative comments to dictate how we ran our business, we would lose all of our integrity, which is the lifeblood of any good news organization. We can’t let advertisers or politicians to dictate the message in our paper either. We are depended upon to tell the truth first.

And while there is this huge, perceived negative stain on journalism in our country because of national outlets siding with one particular political party, at the local level the vast majority of newspapers remain untarnished. To keep it that way, we rely on our subscribers. It’s all about serving them.

Joshua Campbell is sports editor of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at 736-2611.

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