Last Sunday, I wrote a column headlined “Why doesn't Akron have tornado sirens?” It was shared on the Akron Beacon Journal's Facebook page and drew a slew of comments. Partway through the discussion, the conversation took a detour.
A Stow resident wrote, “I’d love to know [the answer] but I’m not registering to read your online articles. … I’m not jumping through hoops.”
The next poster agreed. “I try and read about it then they want u to pay. why put it on here then.”
An Akron man also was puzzled: “you would think with the decline of people reading a physical copy of the paper they would let you view it for free.”
Oh … my … God.
Sure, pal. That is a marvelous idea. Newspaper circulation has plummeted — slaughtering revenue and resources — and the way to fix that is to give the product away? Which economics classes did you take?
Apparently, we also need a history lesson. Let's call it Newspapers 101.
Back in olden times, aka the mid-1990s, newspaper publishers wanted to show how hip they were, so they started posting stories and photos on a hot new medium known as the World Wide Web.
They just stuck their stuff right out there. Come and get it!
Needless to say, or perhaps not, that decision helped lead to the slow, agonizing decline of the daily newspaper. Why would somebody pay for the paper if they could read the whole thing online for nothing?
So circulation steadily shrunk and, as it did, so did revenue from advertising and subscriptions. That meant less money to pay employees.
How much less money? In 1995, we had 174 people in the newsroom. Today we have 39.
In hindsight, part of the solution may have been something akin to what iTunes does: If you click on a Dyer column, it costs you 5 cents. Click on a Cleveland Browns story and a city council story, and your tab is up to 15 cents. At the end of the month, we bill your credit card.
But nobody did that, and the horse was out of the barn. Many publications have been trying to wrangle the horse back in — some with notable success — but that's not an easy proposition.
One reason it's not easy is all these people who think they are entitled to read our work without spending a penny.
Why? Do you work for free?
How do you expect us to create stories without paying people to research, write and edit them — and also pay the rent and utilities and taxes and other operating expenses?
To get unlimited online access to the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com costs all of $10 a month. That's less than you'd pay for a month of streaming Showtime.
Yes, Showtime is entertaining. But you won't get one word about Akron. Despite the plunge in our workforce, the 39 people in our newsroom dwarf the coverage of Akron supplied by any other news outlet in any medium.
Another Facebook poster wrote, “Most of the time the local news station has the same story and you don’t have to pay for it.”
Do you know where TV and radio stations get many of their Akron stories? From the Beacon Journal.
Watch how many times Cleveland TV's evening newscasts trot out their version of stories we published that morning (and often act as if they uncovered them). On some of the local radio newscasts, you can almost hear the pages of the Beacon Journal turning in the background.
So what happens when people such as our Facebook buddies don't want to pay for journalism? A couple of significant things, and neither one is good.
First, with ever-diminishing resources, the newspaper's traditional role as “watchdog” takes a major hit. If you don't have enough bodies poking around, you can't shine a light on governmental and corporate wrongdoing.
And if you don't want to pay for journalism, the void will be filled more and more by online “news stories” that are actually conjured up by some 30-year-old loser sitting in his mother's basement pounding away on a laptop in his underwear. We already have far too much of that.
Do we make mistakes? You betcha. But we don't fabricate news.
And when we do make a mistake, we acknowledge it. We print corrections every day in the same place, the bottom of Page A2. If it's a particularly egregious error, we also print the correction on the page where it appeared. (I print significant corrections right in my column.)
We tell you more than anyone else on the planet about what's going on with the local schools, courts, city halls, police departments, hospitals, athletic teams and businesses.
But why should anyone have to pay for that?
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31