Change a constant for the news business – except it’s still all about Gilroy

Mark Derry

More than a decade ago, as the dawn of the information age turned into mid-morning, our industry hemmed and hawed: Should we charge customers to read the news online? Pros and cons were tossed about like sports cliches in post-game interviews. And, as an industry, we took it “one game at a time” which turned into “one year at a time” which, in my view, turned into a decade of madness.

Now, we’re paying the price – actually, we’re asking you, our readers, to pay the price – the price it costs to produce the news, whether it’s online or in print.

I’ve never believed that reading the local online news should be free. It didn’t make sense to charge someone who wanted paper and not charge someone who preferred a computer screen, tablet or smartphone.

My business analogy is simple. Say you started a brewing company with a few investors and the business model went like this: Make good beer, give it away free to customers and sell advertising on the cans to make money. It’s a very iffy business plan to began with – one that Don Christopher and John Fry would have a laugh over – and it places no value on your core product – the beer – and all the value on the advertising.

That’s madness, and that’s what the newspaper industry has been doing for more than a decade. It isn’t working. We can’t continue to produce a quality news product without charging the readers for what we do.

We’re paying for our past mistakes, of course. When you give away something for free for so long, then ask people to pay for it, there are understandably some hopping mad people. To add insult to injury, the economic realities are requiring that we reduce our print publication to once per week on Friday. Ouch. As the editor of the paper for 24 years, I understand completely. I’m a print guy who started back in the day when you’d have to cut up your stories with scissors after they came out of a developing machine. Then you’d run the copy through the hot waxer and use an X-ACTO knife to trim. Next, you’d paste the news onto a paper page to get ready for the press. Now we can write a breaking news blurb and post it on the web in the time it takes to shake up a martini. The pace of change has been incredible.

The good news for current print subscribers (and there’s always good local news, too, in the paper) is that the daily online news access is  and will be free. We truly do value our print subscribers. We’re stepping up the online efforts, posting local news and sports more frequently as well as letters to the editor and opinion pieces. I’m not going to tell you that it’s like going back to a five-days-per-week print publication, but with your support, it’s going to be the next best thing.

Without your support, Gilroy’s patch.com “news” site won’t have a real local news outlet to steal stories from while poorly disguising the plagiarism. But that’s another story about what passes for journalism …

News is a tough business. When you do it write (play on words intended), you’re going to make some people unhappy because it’s public scrutiny. But that comes with the territory and, ultimately, it’s part of being a journalist. Whether it’s a school board member stealing from the taxpayers, or the city settling an officer involved shooting for more than $2 million or a story about a string of downtown burglaries that calls into question whether there’s enough police presence or preventative action, there are stories with “negative” coattails.

Then, there are the incredibly heartwarming local stories like “Nathan’s Toy Drive” about young Nathan Heredia who spent Christmas night in Stanford  Children’s Hospital two years ago at age 3 battling leukemia and woke up surrounded by stuffed animals and toys from Santa. Now 5, Nathan and his mom decided to hold a toy drive for the children in the hospital at Christmas and, with the help of Adam Sanchez and Ann Zyburra at the Milias Restaurant where mom is the pastry chef,  collected 400 toys this past weekend.

That’s the yin and the yang of being in the newspaper business. It’s all about our community, it’s never boring and yet, for the last decade, it’s also fallen under the umbrella of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

The Gilroy Dispatch has been around since 1868 – that’s even before our former columnist and retiring City Councilman Bob Dillon (wink) was born. During that 144-year time span, the newspaper has been weekly, twice weekly, daily, five days a week and, for the last decade, daily on the web.

There will be more changes ahead that I can’t predict – we’re simply living in a whirlwind time for information dispersion.

I believe the Gilroy Dispatch will be around – even in the print edition – for another 30 years at least. And I hope that our readers will support us through this latest “storm of change”, recognizing that a community without a local newspaper is like a family recipe that’s missing a key ingredient. Part of the recipe for a successful community is a reliable source for information and that’s what we provide every day.

 

Reach Editor Mark Derry at [email protected]

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