Monday, August 8, 2016

Why I'm Subscribing to the Lawrence Journal-World

My return to Lawrence, Kansas coincided with an epochal moment in the city’s history: After 125 years of ownership by the Simons family, the Lawrence Journal-World passed to the ownership of Ogden Newspapers, a West Virginia company with newspapers all over this great country.

One consequence of the new ownership: A lot of longtime employees lost their jobs.

None of this is a surprise, exactly. Lawrence hasn’t been immune to the newspaper industry’s overall decline over the last decade; the Simons family decided they couldn’t sustain the cost anymore, and Ogden apparently decided the paper would only be sustainable at a smaller size. Even before the sale, there was less LJW than there used to be, as both the staff and the paper had shrunk in fits and starts over time.

Even though I’m a Journal-World alum, I thought about skipping a subscription when we returned. Used copies of the paper are easy enough to find on coffee shop tables or at libraries in town; I wasn’t sure the cost — $18.25 a month — was worth it. I get the New York Times online for $15 a month, and there’s more there there. What can I say? I'm cheap.

A couple of things happened, though. The second one you’ve probably heard about: John Oliver’s lament for the newspaper industry:

You know what? He’s right! Even in its diminished state, the newspaper industry is at the core of much of the journalism that happens in America. Other media — radio and TV especially, but also a lot of aggregating websites — wouldn’t have much to put on the air if they didn’t get some help from their local newspapers.

He’s also right — though less so — that we’re responsible for keeping the papers alive if we want them. In truth, the problem isn’t really audience: Add online to print readership, and most news organizations have bigger audiences than they’ve ever had. But online advertising hasn’t replaced print advertising as a source of revenue, and it’s not gonna. That does mean that newspapers will be more reliant on payments from readers (and not just monetizing their eyeballs through ads) but they’ll probably also have to find some new ways of generating revenue.

Which brings us back to the Journal-World. I chatted last week with a smart friend of mine who contemplated the paper’s future. “From now on,” he said, “the community’s going to get the paper it supports. Before, it got the paper Dolph (Simons) thought it should have.”

Dolph’s willingness to subsidize the paper beyond its natural revenue limitations probably bred some complacency in the local community over the years; many locals wanted to gripe about his conservative politics and Chamber of Commerce alliances (or the paper’s longtime style of referring to the University of Kansas as “Kansas University”) rather than see the ways he served the city well. Now the blinders must come off.

Which is why I’m going to subscribe to the Journal-World instead of catching it for free wherever I can. The community is only going to get the news organization it supports. So I’m supporting it.

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