Recently GateHouse Media launched a new digital subscription service.
Some readers are unhappy. They believe online news should be free.
One group of readers vowed to start its own newspaper, and to those folks I would express my wholehearted support. In fact, let me give you guys some guidance into starting and operating a newspaper.
First, unless you intend to run your newspaper out of a back bedroom, you’ll need to buy or lease an office building. Get out your checkbook because office buildings aren’t cheap. You’ll need to pay deposits on utilities and take out insurance, both property and liability. Be prepared for monthly light and water bills unlike anything you’ve seen at your house.
Buildings need maintenance so hire a maintenance man or contract with a service. That goes for janitorial, too, unless you’re handy with a broom and dustpan. You’ll need supplies — cleaning supplies, toilet paper, that sort of thing. It’s cheaper to buy them in bulk.
Next, you’ll need a computer system for the whole building. To keep that computer system running you’ll need an IT guy or gal. IT folks don’t work for free, so be prepared to pay that person a decent salary.
You’ll need the following employees: folks to make sure the newspaper gets delivered, folks to sell ads and folks to write the news, take the photos and design the pages. You’ll need another batch of folks to make sure this stuff translates to the online world, and yet another group of folks to make sure the books balance.
None of those people work for free. They will expect a salary. As the creator of your own newspaper, you’ll have to pay them a salary to work for you. They’ll expect benefits — health insurance, a 401(k) and other perks. Those perks won’t be extravagant, but trust me, you’ll spend some extravagant money — for the insurance coverage alone.
Did I mention you’ll need a printing press? A printing press will cost you a small fortune, and you’ll have the continuing expenses of paper and ink. Or were you planning to publish your newspaper online only? If so, good luck with that. There aren’t enough ads in the world to support an online-only newspaper.
Oh, and you’ll need libel insurance so that if somebody sues you because you got their criminal charge wrong, you won’t be put out of business by the cost of fighting the lawsuit or a settlement not in your favor.
Be prepared for a long, tough haul gathering the information for your stories. It doesn’t simply fall out of the sky. You have to tease it out, research, beg, dig, and sometimes stand up to interview subjects who don’t want to cooperate, are lying, or are trying to thwart you.
Once you get that information you have to figure out how to make sense of it. Some of that stuff is extraordinarily complicated, and sometimes the picture is incomplete, obfuscated, or covered up. It actually takes effort to track down all the bits and pieces you need for a story and then render it into a form that makes sense.
Let’s assume you’ve done all these things and have a newspaper that is publishing successfully and earning your investors a profit. What I want you to do next is:
Give away your content online for free.
You see, the first few years after the internet came along, newspapers did that. And guess what? Readers quickly realized they could get their news for free online and canceled their subscriptions. No amount of advertising made up the difference. Many newspapers went out of business. Others struggled, and continue to struggle.
But maybe you’ll figure it out. Lord knows nobody else has. You, with your vast experience in business and journalism, could be the exception.
If you do, please let us know. Every paper in the world wants the answer to that question.
And as I tell my friends, when they hear that Gary Smith Ford is giving away free F-150s, please let me know that too. I want to be first on that list.
Contact online editor Del Stone Jr. at (850) 315-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @delsnwfdn, and friend him on Facebook at dels nwfdn.