{Editor’s Column} Cheap, fast and easy: not always healthy

Adapt or die. That’s the message print   media is getting. Print is decried as “too expensive” and “you can’t track its metrics” as advertisers jump ship for social media.

Social media—like fast food—is cheap, fast and easy. Also like fast food, it exacts a price on the backside you aren’t thinking about while you inhale those cheap, fast and easy nuggets of “pink slime.”

We don’t know what the shift will eventually cost us all. We know what’s happened thus far has created “news deserts” nationwide, where there is no local news coverage at all.

My colleagues have asked me how long I expect to keep printing a paper edition. I tell them as long as we can afford it. As long as we have advertisers paying for print ads and subscribers who want a print copy, we’ll keep paying for print. Why? Because print will always have value.

Someday, I’ve been told repeatedly, we’ll be forced to move to a digital-only model, thereby competing with the likes of Google for advertising revenue. That’s a scary thought I keep shoving to the back of my mind.

Google and “the Facebook” could care less whether any of our local businesses remain viable. If one of us—whether it’s the newspaper or a local restaurant or a parts store or a clothing store—disappears from their marketing metric, they simply replace us with someone else who’s willing to pay them. Pretty soon we’ve all been assimilated by the Borg.

Google and Facebook ads pay Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. Advertising dollars that fund local journalism pay a warm body to attend county commissioner meetings, town council meetings, hospital district board meetings, school board meetings, local sports activities and every other event local community journalism strives to cover.

It also pays for the space to print your letters to the editor, your guest columns, your obituaries, your death notices, your birth announcements, your news briefs for your classes and meetings and gatherings, your community calendar events, and everything else that goes into print (and online, without charging you extra for it).

“But we have Facebook for all that!” Mmm-hmm. You do realize only 10% of your “friends” see your posts, right? That’s on a good day. In the last 10 years, Facebook has gradually been limiting your feed in favor of paid posts. That means Facebook, not you, decides what you see. It also means they decide what your customers see if you are a business attempting to use them for marketing purposes.

What print does have is history, trust, loyalty, and extended value.

That’s not to say we aren’t on social media ourselves, leveraging it to build our own brand and get more customers. It’s a tool we’ve been using longer than most of the entities now touting social media as their favorite marketing plan. In fact, we’ll help you set up and manage your social media so you don’t get sucked into the internet vortex. But we also encourage advertisers not to limit themselves to “cheap, free and easy.”

Print has survived radio, TV, and 20-ish years of the internet. It may not survive social media.

At the very least, the business model for local journalism will likely be forced to change, and when it does, print will probably be sacrificed on the altar of social media.

By Niki Turner | editor@ht1885.com