By LAWRENCE RILEY
News isn’t free, information is not obsolete and journalism is not a bygone era. But the undeniable truth is that the rapid progression of digital communication and the duopoly that has emerged is cutting off the blood supply newspapers need to prosper. Consumers are beginning to see that digital advertising dollars have become patently targeted and very centralized. But maybe they don’t realize that Facebook and Google control 85 percent of all digital advertising dollars — billions of dollars that support their platforms at the expense of legitimate news organizations.
Are newspapers facing disruption? Sure. Are they a bygone era? Absolutely not! Between print and digital, our reach has never been greater. Yet the very source of funding that allows newspapers to thrive is at risk like never before. And there’s nothing complicated about a newspaper’s business model.
Through readers we attract advertising dollars. Newspaper readers have always been a valuable audience and advertisers have always paid for this reach. Contrary to what many think, news has never been free. It costs a lot to gather, print and distribute local information every single day of the year, and supporters of the newspaper medium have willingly financed the enterprise because of what they get in return. The bulk of that cost has historically been borne by advertisers, yet the changing marketplace has put our very existence in jeopardy.
Imagine a community like ours without a newspaper. Social media may complement but cannot replace local news. Sources of information provided by your local newspaper are not easily replicated anywhere else.
You’re not reading The Press for national and wire stories. You’re reading it for our coverage about local towns, schools, city government, sports, community events, clubs, churches and organizations serving the community; about local tragedies and triumphs. That’s what local newspapers do best: Put readers in touch with their community. They also engage in commerce — bringing buyers and sellers together.
The Facebook/Google duopoly that exists where digital dollars are being controlled by just two companies has contributed to the structural erosion of the newspaper industry. These companies talk about how they would like to help publishers build their subscriber base, but their “offers” demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding and do not address the underlying problem. Financial support from advertisers is the bedrock upon which media companies exist; Facebook and Google exist to defeat publishers by drawing advertising dollars away from them. If Facebook, the king of the Fake News empire, were serious about making amends, it would share more of its treasure trove of ad revenue with the publishers who produce quality information about their communities.
I’m proud to say that North Idaho residents and businesses have been supporting The Press for over 125 years and we look forward to growing along with our communities for many more years. That will only happen, however, if readers and advertisers are fully aware of the long-range impact of their buying decisions. Shopping local has always been this newspaper’s rallying cry. Today it happens to be more true than ever.