Picture it: Keyser, West Virginia. August 2020.
I walk into a local pizza shop ready for a nice lunch. I am hungry and I NEED pizza.
The friendly employee greets me with smiling eyes (he is, as required, wearing a mask): "How may I help you?" he asks.
"I am here for my pizza," I say, smiling back like my Momma taught me, although it may be hard for him to see because I, too, am wearing my mask.
"I have it right here for you," the employee says, pulling it out of the warming cabinet and setting it on the counter in front of me.
"Thanks!" I say, taking in the great aroma emanating from the box. "I really appreciate it!"
As I turn to leave with the box in hand, however, the employee, seeming a bit confused, stops me.
"That will be $10.62," he says.
"What? Why?" I ask.
"That’s the cost of the pizza, with tax," is his reply.
"But I thought it was free!" I counter.
The employee is now truly confused. "Free? What would make you think it was free?"
"Well, I wanted pizza. And you’re here to provide that pizza," I say.
"Nobody ever said anything about PAYING for it."
"But ma’am, how do you think we pay for the ingredients that go into that pizza? Or pay the employees, like me, who make the pizza? Or pay the electric company to keep the ovens running and the lights on?"
"I … uh … subsidies?" I stammer, adding, "You mean providing pizza is not a public service to the community?"
Imagine that! I was actually being asked to pay for something I was wanting to consume!
Now I have a question for you: What is the difference between a pizza restaurant charging for their product and a news service charging for our product?
Both of us have employees to pay, lights and equipment to keep running, and a product for you to consume.
Ever since the first newspapers were printed back in the 1600s, consumers of news have paid to feed their desire to find out what’s going on around them.
When ads began showing up in the papers, the revenue helped pay for the cost of producing the newspapers, but in truth, advertising has never fully supported the cost of producing news.
That is especially true today. While the ads in your community newspaper are absolutely vital in keeping us afloat, that revenue is supplemented by subscriptions, single copy sales, and additional advertising revenues such as our website designs and, of course, digital sales.
And more and more, the demand for more news at a quicker pace has caused our product to be made available online in a more timely manner as opposed to later in the print edition.
So why do so many people think the news they consume online should be free?
Question: How do you think the news, photos and videos got on that news website for you to consume?
Just like the paid employees who put my pizza together, popped it into the oven and boxed it up, paid employees here at the newspaper - reporters, photographers, editors, web designers, and a whole bunch of other people who work both locally and for our parent company - are paid to produce the news.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, "There’s no such thing as a free lunch." Everything we consume must be paid for in some manner.
Yes, your hometown newspaper does provide a service to the community, and some (like me) would argue that producing good quality pizza is also a service to the community.
But that service must be paid for in order for us to enjoy it.
We are, after all, a small business, just like that small pizza shop, or the local real estate office, the second-hand store, the dog groomer, and your local insurance agent. if we give our product away for free, we all cease to exist.
So if you want to continue to get the LOCAL news from a reputable, trustworthy source (and don’t even get me started on those who say they get their "news" from social media!), support your local newspaper! Subscribe to the paper and get free access to the website, or subscribe to just the website. Or, if you don’t want to try an online subscription right now, pay that tiny fee to read that single story so you can be informed and talk intelligently about it with your friends.
Stay informed, and support your local people working hard to bring you the news!