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EDITORIAL: Subscriptions affirm the value of news

Years ago, the writer Stewart Brand summarized one of the great tensions in media.

“On the one hand,” Brand wrote, “information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable; the right information in the right place just changes your life.”

“On the other hand,” he continued, “information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

There is perhaps no better example of this tension than in the news business.

We see firsthand how covering the news is expensive. There are reporters to pay, to attend meetings and events and to read documents, to make phone calls, send follow-up emails and snap photos. Then there are designers tasked with presenting the information in a pleasing, easy-to-understand way — and that’s before you count the folks needed to sell advertising, keep track of bills and conduct the day-to-day business. In the case of a newspaper, you also need a crew to print the news and keep the press running smoothly and another crew to get each issue ready for mailing.

On the other side of the coin, covering the news can also be dirt cheap. Rather than do their own reporting, some media outlets simply replicate — and in some cases, straight-up steal from — the work of others. An in-depth story that a journalist might have worked on for weeks or months can be re-reported or even plagiarized by a competing outlet almost instantaneously.

Consider how one national broadcaster or newspaper’s “scoops” are immediately available on countless copycat news websites, often surrounded by a dizzying array of invasive ads.

To someone casually reading the news, it might appear that the outlets did an equal amount of work or are equally valuable.

But here’s the problem: outlets that rely on the work of others are exactly that — reliant. If the true journalists of the media landscape were to go away, those secondary outlets would not have any big news to share with their readers.

When at their best, journalists bring to light information that would otherwise remain hidden or misunderstood — information that readers or listeners or watchers can use.

Among the many roles that the Powell Tribune plays in this community, one of the most important is serving as a proxy. When a hospital board meeting or court hearing comes to order, or a Powell High School championship game tips off, it’s not just a Tribune reporter who’s there — in a sense, so are the hundreds or thousands of folks who will later read about it in the Tribune.

We appreciate the trust that the community has placed in us to cover the news and we try to continually earn that trust with every word we publish.

But the relationship must also work two ways, because there are workers and bills to pay.

Like essentially every other media outlet, the Tribune gets the bulk of its revenue from advertisers. We’re thankful for their support and appreciate the opportunity to help them succeed.

Subscribers, however, are key to the whole mix: People who’ve agreed to pony up and pay for the content that the Tribune provides. Without subscribers, businesses would have no interest in advertising and the Tribune would have no one to write for.

We media types often pitch the value of a subscription in the same way that government leaders pitch a new sales tax: “It’ll only cost you as much as one cup of Starbucks coffee each month!”

That is true: a Tribune subscription breaks down to about $4.17 a month, meaning that the nine issues you’ll receive in January is almost exactly what you’d pay for a single Venti-sized cafe latte.

But here’s another way to think about the cost of a $50 annual subscription: That’s barely enough money to pay one reporter to track down and write one typical story — let alone to pay editors to help spruce it up, a designer to make it look attractive on the page and a pressman to make sure it all reproduces in print. 

In a sense, if the Tribune provided just one story in 2017 that you found interesting or useful, you paid for it with your subscription. If you found multiple stories useful — and we certainly hope you did — you could say that you got more out of your subscription than you put in.

The Tribune will never check someone’s subscription status before responding to a request for help, a story idea or a complaint, but we appreciate the commitment that a subscription reflects.

To our current subscribers, thank you for partnering with and believing in us. To those who have yet to subscribe, we hope you also see the value of news and consider signing up to start 2018.

We believe it’s a worthwhile investment.

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