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29 Mar 2020

News Ain't Cheap; How A.A. Members Are Adjusting to Staying at Home—Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest: March 29, 2020

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If you’re one of those people who gets upset when you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall … it’s time we had a chat.

First off, you should know that it’s not your fault you feel this way. When the big daily newspaper companies went online two decades ago, the decision-makers at those newspapers decided to give everything away for free. Why, you ask, would they make people pay for news delivered in physical form, yet give it away online? I don’t know. I do know that many of those big newspaper execs are what people call “morons,” seeing as they chose to react to things like Craigslist not by innovating, but instead by making staffing cuts—resulting in a weaker product—to protect what was often a 30-40 percent profit margin at their companies.

This caused a death spiral at most daily newspapers around the country: They kept cutting and cutting and cutting, and not innovating, until things got dire. Then one day, they decided to start charging for that online news they’d been giving away for more than a decade.

Say it along with me: Morons!

In the alternative-newspaper world, we were a little smarter. Yeah, we gave away our content online for free, too—but that made a little more sense, because we’d been giving away the physical product for free, too. While our industry also got our ass kicked by Craigslist and online personals services, and that killed off some of the slower-acting bigger-city newspapers, a lot of people also innovated: We started doing profitable events that our readers liked, for example. We were more innovative online, too, making better-looking websites and creating e-Editions—and generally being more fun than other newspapers.

Until about a month ago, many alternative newspapers—especially in smaller and medium-sized markets—were doing OK. We were doing fun, engaging and important coverage of our communities; attracting advertising from restaurants, theaters and events; and doing events of our own. That kept the lights on, the servers serving, and the presses running—meaning we could continue to offer all that fun, engaging and important coverage to our readers for free.

Then … well, thanks to COVID-19, all the restaurants were closed (except, thank goodness, for takeout). So were the theaters. And the events were all cancelled. This is a problem.

Anyway, the idiocy of the daily newspaper companies, and the sorta-smarts of the alternative-newspaper companies, have long masked one important fact: Doing news is not cheap.

Take us at the Independent, for example. Our staff writer gets paid. Our 10-15 regular freelancers are paid. We have server fees and bookkeeper fees and cell-phone charges and monthly subscription fees for the computer software we use. Each “normal” pre-pandemic print edition of the Independent cost, conservatively, $3,000 to $4,000 to lay out, print and distribute. Heck, we pay about $2,000 a year just for libel insurance—needed to protect us in case someone with deeper pockets than us decides he or she doesn’t like a story we did.

I could go on and on … but you get the point: If you are able, you need to support the newspapers from which you get your information. (Yes, even The Desert Sun.) This stuff takes time, and talent, and money to produce.

So … the next time you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall, don’t snivel; subscribe.

As for the Independent, never fear: As long as I am around, we will never have a paywall, because I understand that some of our readers—especially right now—can’t afford to pay for the news … and I am proud of the work we’re doing, and I want everyone to have access to it. I also trust that our readers who can afford to send us a few bucks will do so, because they’re smart and value what we do.

But, seriously: Stop complaining about paywalls, OK?

Tomorrow, we’ll have some news about some exciting things going on with the Independent, despite all the darkness. In the meantime, keep reading. Oh, and if you want/need a copy of our April print edition, go here for details.

And now, the news.

• Our very own V.J. Hume did an amazing piece on how our neighbors who are Alcoholics Anonymous members are dealing with this new temporary reality. It’s a fascinating read.

• Fingers crossed: Faster, easier COVID-19 testing is on its way … to some places at least.

• USA Today brings us this interesting piece on what scientists are learning from COVID-19 mutations. Buried within the piece is more encouraging news about how California’s doing at #flatteningthecurve.

• Coming next weekend, some big-name drag performers are putting on a really big online show.

• The president and CEO of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce has put together a fundraiser to send local health-care workers food.

• Missing Las Vegas? Here’s info on a virtual tour of the Neon Museum to temporarily satisfy your thirst for the bright lights.

• The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center and Mayor Geoff Kors are holding a webinar at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) on resources for businesses affected by this mess.

• From our partners at CalMatters: The governor thinks the state will have enough ventilators to get through the pandemic—as long as citizens keep doing our part.

• Palm Desert’s CREATE Center for the Arts has put its 3-D printers to use, making personal protective equipment for local medical professionals.

• A bunch of local orgs have created an emergency fund for families in need.

• Could the coronavirus bring back the drive-in movie theater?

• The California Restaurant Association is afraid that the pandemic will shutter 30,000 California restaurants.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Make sure (safely) that your neighbors are OK. Support local journalism. More tomorrow.

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