Monday, January 28, 2019

Oregon editor: Subscriptions vital to local news coverage

Editor Eric Lukens of The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., offers readers a peek behind the curtain and a prediction of where local journalism is headed in the wake of last week's announcement that the paper's locally based parent company, Western Communications, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The biggest thing readers can do to help preserve local news outlets is to subscribe, Lukens advises. That's because newspapers can no longer depend on advertising revenue to pay the bills. "At one time, abundant ad revenue allowed news organizations to provide broad news coverage without charging readers much for it. Then, digital advertising behemoths like Facebook and Google came along and disrupted that model, substantially reducing the advertising dollars that support news coverage," Lukens writes.

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As advertising revenue continues to decline, subscription revenue has to increase in order for news outlets to stay afloat. In the meantime, they must cut costs where they can. That's frustrating for readers who can see that they're paying more for less, Lukens acknowledges: "As our funding model evolves, our products, as distributed in print and online, will be refined to deliver what it is our readers value at a price they are willing to pay. There’s an equilibrium out there for The Bulletin, and it will involve less newsprint and wire-service articles . . . and a sustained focus on local news."

The best way to ensure that The Bulletin can continue to provide quality local coverage is to subscribe and urge others to do so as well, Lukens writes: "Above all, understand that dedicated community journalism will rely increasingly upon readers willing to support it."

The question of whether to subscribe or not gets more complicated when the local paper is purchased by a hedge fund or other media chain and reduced to a shell of its former self for profit, Margaret Sullivan writes for The Washington Post. As one subscriber of such a paper told her, "The paper has become almost useless to me, and it feels like paying for it is only helping a hedge fund instead of advancing journalism." Sullivan advises, "Hang in there if you can. You’re certainly not wrong to question what’s happened, to be troubled by the corporate decision-making, and to miss your more robust newspaper of old. But there is value here still. And there are working journalists — skilled, experienced, dedicated reporters, editors, photographers — who are doing their best, in tough times, to serve you, while a beleaguered news industry tries to find a path to a sustainable future. Please support them."

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