Information is free: Gathering it ain’t free

newspaperI’m reminded of an odd email conversation that I had with a local café in the early, early days of Augusta Free Press.

Talking 2002 here, so back in the Stone Age of news on the Internet. It would be years before I wouldn’t have to explain in detail that, no, Augusta Free Press didn’t have a print paper, and that, no, we weren’t independently wealthy.

Which gets me back to the café, which was trying to get us to run notices on its monthly schedule of events, including poetry readings, open mic nights, et cetera.

All stuff worthy of being highlighted, no doubt. I casually mentioned that we offered inexpensive advertising packages as a way of hoping to ignite a move in that direction for our fledgling operation.

The response: yeah, we knew that’s where this was going.

And then came the tongue-lashing, to the point that we should be thanking the folks at the café for giving us something to post on our website, instead of using our back-and-forth as a pretext for asking for money.

Information was free, was the extent of the harangue.

I remember writing back to suggest that, sure, we’d love to not have to ask about money, but since Augusta Free Press didn’t spring fully formed from the foam, a la the Greek goddess Aphrodite, then we had bills to pay like everybody else.

The reply: ah, you guys are Republicans.

Yes. Those who try to make money at things are automatically Republicans. Nice attitude there, but it’s one that persists.

All these years later, with the traditional news operations, particularly newspapers, struggling to stay afloat, too many people assume that information is free.

Well, information may be free, but gathering it and packaging it into readable form is decidedly not, and never will be.

News operations are a lot more stealthy than they were back when I started in the business, but you still need people on the front lines to find out what’s going on and produce reports on what they’ve learned, and editors to serve as gatekeepers ensuring that the information is accurate and ready for publication.

Since few if any of us who work in the news side of the media business are independently wealthy, as was long assumed of me (ha!), somehow we need the money to come in.

Papers still have subscriptions and sell print ads. Some online operations are finding success with subscriptions and display and pay-per-click ads. Some find benefactors to fund a portion or even the entirety of their operations.

Bottom line: news is a business like any other, and as much as you might think you prefer getting your news from social media, at some point, somebody had to write the original news piece that we all link each other to, and that somebody has bills to pay, and a need to have money to come in to pay them.

You don’t have to be a Republican to see that, I hope.

Column by Chris Graham

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