Over Easy: You don’t get what you don’t pay for

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 5/31/2019 9:50:25 PM
Modified: 5/31/2019 9:50:17 PM

I have read several times that Valley News content should be free online, at least according to cranky non-subscribers on Facebook. They are pretty aggressive about it, and throw in an insult for good measure: If I had a subscription, I would cancel it.

As comedian Jack Benny used to say with a flourish: Well!

I do not think that catering to nonsubscribers is a brilliant business plan, although newspapers and other media have tried it. As it happens, internet advertising can be lucrative, if you can deliver millions of eyeballs (sounds creepy) to people who want to sell dodgy male enhancement products (again, creepy).

Otherwise, subscriptions are the ticket.

As a retired journalist who hung his cap at the newspaper offices on bucolic Interchange Drive in West Lebanon for three decades, I have some skin in the game. I continue to contribute to the paper on a limited, freelance basis. (My post-retirement naps take precedence, and are non-negotiable.) I am part of the gig economy, along with Uber drivers and panhandlers.

I would like to be able to claim that each column of mine is so well-received that readers shower me with smoked meats, root vegetables and bitcoins, but that happens less than you might think. Monetary compensation, even if modest, remains relevant.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” said Samuel Johnson, 18th-century smart guy, who is described as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer — certainly no blockhead. (Only writers of limericks are in it purely for the glory. I grew up in Rhode Island, where there once was a man from Pawtucket. And that is all I can say about that.)

In the spirit of Mr. Johnson, I earned a princely $10 for my first newspaper article, published in my hometown weekly in the mid-1970s. I dropped off the typed copy in the office mail slot by night — too shy to look the editor in the eye as he judged my efforts to be trash, masterpiece or, most likely, serviceable. And serviceable it was! There it was on the front page, which startled me. In those days you could fill up your car for 10 bucks and still have money left over for a meatball sandwich.

Since I am happily on the dole — Social Security — and have a modest pension (remember those?), the pressure to produce is off these days. I have also taken a part-time job at a local high school library, where I commune with books and see people who are younger than 55, which helps shake off the feeling that the Upper Valley is a retirement community. (Attend a classical music event at the Hop and see what I mean. Or almost any Nugget movie featuring Judi Dench, who to the best of my knowledge has never driven in a Fast and Furious film.)

Unless you have been living under a rock, a tempting option these days, you may have heard that the internet is putting the squeeze on newspapers by sucking up ad revenue. Newsrooms across the U.S. lost one-quarter of their employees between 2008 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.

People say information wants to be free. Well, propaganda certainly does, along with press releases, data-mining quizzes and pictures of pugs in pajamas. Social media spreads rumors and snark at the speed of light. The truth rambles far behind holding a candle.

I suppose I could adjust if I had to recruit my own readers, even though I am not amused by local dailyUV website contributors who pester the listservs with links to their media business. At least they have not turned to internet hyper-hyperbole, which, come to think of it, might be more amusing. I might enjoy headlines like Norwich Sidewalk Plans Are Absolutely Insane!, or You Won’t Believe What the Repainted Main Street Crosswalk Looks Like Now!

Sometimes, writing sentences isn’t work. Rewriting and editing them almost always is. Reporting, consulting multiple sources and fact-checking stories test the brain and intestinal fortitude. Journalism might seem like a fun hobby, but it is difficult to get hobbyists to show up every day, or for night shifts.

It is true that I write, to a certain degree, for pleasure, both mine and, it is to be hoped, yours. But sitting on the deck in the sun is also a pleasure, and less effort. If you don’t think the Valley News, and I to a much lesser extent, deserve compensation for publishing, we are at an impasse.

Unless you are willing to scrape the eaves of my house. Then we can talk.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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