My Thoughts - Tariff, Amazon, Fake News - Can We Survive
By James B. Bartle
Growing up in a rural community I was an active young man playing sports with my buddies, working with many farmers in my neighborhood and everyday I would get to Bourbon High School early I would head to the library and read newspapers, magazines and what was happening in the world.
It was during this time I decided that I wanted to be a journalist. I loved print, I loved writing, I loved radio and this — this is what I wanted to do when I graduated.
Thus, I worked my tail off to become a journalist, learn all aspects of the newspaper print business and now I’m co-publisher of our hometown newspaper; a newspaper I often read in the high school library each week.
Following some 28 years on this job and reaching the point I’m at now, I have wondered in recent years where this publication will be in five, 10, 20 years from now and trust me, my thoughts have changed more in the last year than at any time before.
First the good: we have a loyal reader base, people who are at the local grocery stores and gas stations every Tuesday afternoon asking, “Is the Independent here yet?”.
We have loyal subscribers who continue to renew their paper each and every year, subscribers who have jumped onto our E-edition and print edition from our website mysullivannews.com. They receive not only the electronic edition of this publication, but also the print as well. Local area advertisers still choose print over social and electronic media because they know people still read print regardless of what “big city” reports say. Advertisers know in communities such as ours print is still viable.
Now the bad: newspapers large and small are under attack from all sides of the business, and if you don’t think so let me explain.
The latest attack is from a pending investigation from the U.S. Trade Commission regarding newsprint-uncoated groundwood paper. A small newspaper mill in Washington state, owned by a hedge fund, decided that Canadian producers were unfairly selling newsprint because they can naturally produce it more economically.
In short this proposed tariff which has already caused newsprint to skyrocket and could be a fatal blow to newspapers large and small. I encourage you to read the editorial in this paper from the National Newspaper Association (NNA) regarding this matter for further details. I ask that you contact your elected officials in Washington D.C. regarding this matter.
The second attack is from digital marketing plans. While I get that some of these strategies can be effective for some businesses, it excludes people who just don’t want any part of it and follow print.
Believe it or not, over the last several years I have found a number of business professionals, common people who are not on Facebook, tell me often how many times they have ads that come out of nowhere when they are looking at news online from major cities. For many reasons they are not a part of electronic media and just don’t want to be a part of it.
Some may say, “well the Sullivan Independent News has a website and Facebook page.”
Yes, we do. It’s a necessary evil. As a journalist, I love to bring breaking news stories directly to our electronic media and follow it up with a thorough article of the incident on the print pages of the Sullivan Independent News.
But it generates very little revenue, thus it’s free news product. The people who work here and their families expect a paycheck. Should I tell them, “well, we generated 204,000 views of our recent news coverage on Facebook and our website but only $100 in revenue thus you and your family do not receive a paycheck this week. Good work but you have to work for free because everyone wants free news and don’t want to pay for it.”
If you think about it, without a newspaper there would be no Sullivan Independent News online or Facebook. What would replace it?
It could be a young, inspiring journalist looking to further their career. But once they see their efforts are not generating any revenue or putting food on the table, they are most likely going to move on.
When we launched our New Haven Independent News a year ago this week, the people in that community did not have a newspaper for several years and came to us asking for our publication to launch a new paper. They stated, “without a town newspaper we have no identity, we have no way to communicate with our community.”
Since that time, we have launched a new paper that has a good base of subscribers and people who purchase it off the newsstands. With that came the New Haven Independent News website and Facebook page. Without print it would not have happened. This community would still have no identity.
Whether you follow a conservative newspaper, a liberal newspaper or an independent newspaper-community newspapers cover their community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve covered a major news event and have been contacted not only by St. Louis media but national media to use my photographs, to use our coverage and give our publication credit. Maybe they would come regardless to cover this but I doubt it if we hadn’t “broke” the story.
They don’t care about our community, how the school children are doing and which student is the “Star of the Week,” how the high school basketball team is doing or whether it’s a winning season or losing season.
But we do.
There has been so much coverage in recent months over “fake news.” With community newspapers and journalism in general, I was educated and trained to report the facts of the story as you have them. Like I have told countless school children and Boy Scouts, its about who, what, when, where, why and how
Is journalism dead in America? Honestly, on national and state coverage many times I have to wonder. With our community news coverage, I think it’s alive and well.
Then there’s Amazon.
The reason I bring up Amazon is because it is a no word, no purchase, no business in our household. Why you may ask?
I encourage our employees and my family to shop local, shop with our advertisers they care about in our communities.
I can already hear people going, “oh James Bartle, I can save $5 on this product and get shipping free with my Amazon Prime.”
Yes, you can, but Amazon doesn’t care about your community. They don’t care about your kid’s school program, your school’s fundraiser but we do and so do our advertisers.
The reply would be, ‘why do you say that?’
Recently, I completed the Sullivan area tour of fundraising events and at every fundraiser, school auction, Rotary auction and hospital foundation benefit, no one from Amazon was there purchasing a ticket to attend. No products or services were donated by Amazon and surprise, surprise no one from Amazon was there to purchase auction items or donate auction items.
But many, many of our hometown businesses owners were in attendance, donated items and bid on items. Many that I’m proud to say advertise with our publication to sell you products and services every week.
So, can we survive?
It is my hope to continue co-owning and working this publication for the next 20 years and see it grow, see it survive. Support the local area businesses that advertise with our publication that support your local community. Each week we are going to feature an ad that promotes the businesses that advertise each week and ask you to support them and keep community newspaper flourishing and not trending downward.
Contact your elected officials and voice your concerns regarding the attack on newsprint and small business America.