EDITORIAL: There's a price to be paid for journalism

York Dispatch
  • In the digital age, newspapers have suffered serious financial losses.
  • The latest Pennsylvania newspaper casualty is the print edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • York, however, is extremely unusual in that it still features two competing newspapers.

In the digital age, there's a fundamental and growing disconnect between news consumers and news producers.

News consumers now expect, and often demand, to get their news for free.

The York Dispatch
Dawn J. Sagert photo

That fact has been driven home recently by messages left on The York Dispatch Facebook page. Unhappy readers have left annoyed notes complaining about having limited access to local news at yorkdispatch.com before hitting our paywall and being asked to subscribe to gain access to additional content.

The lament is basically: “Why should I have to pay to read my local news?”

It's an Internet era thing.

Most everything on the Web is free. It's become the expectation, and readers get downright displeased when asked to pay for content. The vast majority refuse to do it.

There's just one problem. Journalism is a costly endeavor. Watchdog journalism, a bedrock necessity in any free society, is even more expensive.

Unfortunately, the old newspaper model, which relied on print ads and paid subscriptions, doesn't work very well anymore. Revenues from both of those sources have largely fallen off a cliff.

Unfortunately, digital ad revenue hasn't yet come close to making up the difference.

The result has been sad, but predictable. Over the past decade, thousands of journalists have lost their jobs.

The latest dose of bad news in Pennsylvania came Nov. 30 when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shut down its print product, costing more than 100 people their jobs.

That's the bad news.

The good news?

Well, despite our difficulties, newspapers and our websites are still the primary sources of real journalism in this nation. Much, if not most, of the actual reporting that appears on the popular news aggregation websites comes from newspapers.

Even better, here in York County things aren't quite as dire.

Against all odds, York still has two competing newspapers with entirely separate editorial voices.

In this era, for a city the size of York, that is unheard of.

Local readers still have a choice, and that's a very good thing.

The York newspapers, however, haven't been immune to the economic pressures that have impacted the journalism industry. Both organizations have had to make some serious cutbacks over the years.

So where does that leave us?

Well newspapers bear much of the responsibility for our woes. We didn't react quickly enough to the demands of the new digital age, and now we're trying to play catch-up. That's a very hard thing to do.

Here at the Dispatch, we have worked furiously to make our website a 24-7 news operation, packed with the breaking news, videos, slide shows, graphics and photos that the digital audience demands.

John Oliver has given us the best defense of newspapers ever

At the same time, we have not abandoned our print product or the enterprise journalism that helped make newspapers such a vital part of our democracy.

It's a difficult tightrope to walk, especially under serious financial restraints.

We're committed to making it work, however, and finding an economic model that is sustainable for the long term.

Our readers, however, need to realize that good journalism has always been expensive. For centuries, consumers paid for newspaper content, either through subscriptions or single-copy sales.

In the internet era, journalism is still expensive. We simply can't afford to give away our product.

At the Dispatch, we are committed to making that product as indispensable and meaningful as possible to the community we serve.

We are asking our readers to realize that a price must still be paid, even on the Web.