Editorial: Want good journalism? Expect to pay a bit

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” the journalist Walter Morrow wrote in 1938.

As we start 2019 and enter our 55th year as a newspaper, it’s time to reflect on the value of the Homer News to the community and, uh, by the way, how we ask you to pay for us to report the news.

We’re sorry to tell you this, but we now have a paywall on our website. Effective with this issue, our cover price also is going up to $1 and we’re raising our subscription fees.

When newspapers first put up websites in the early 2000s, a lot of publishers and readers forgot Morrow’s maxim. Thinking of websites as portals to print newspapers, they didn’t expect that the internet would take off and soon many readers would get their news straight from the web. But that’s the case now in 2019, and media has wised up.

That would include Sound Publishing, the corporate owners of the Homer News. When we moved from our old web platform to our new website, we put up a paywall. We join our sister papers, the Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau Empire, in charging for access to our website. Casual readers get three free articles a month, and then you have to pay. This is the same system used by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Anchorage Daily News and other papers.

We understand how readers used to free stories for 18 years now might be upset they can’t get unlimited access to our website. It’s a bit like how you used to be able to park free at the Homer Harbor ramp lots, but now have to pay. Times change. In retrospect it might have been smart never to have given something away. The sudden success of the internet took a lot of traditional newspaper publishers by surprise.

As a public service, we would love to offer the news for free. Unlike public radio stations, we don’t get government subsidies. We’re not a nonprofit that can apply for and get grants. We don’t get our property taxes waived and we have to pay sales taxes.

We’re a for-profit company with a local skeleton crew of one reporter, one advertising salesperson and one editor. We all have to pay rent, pay off student loans, pay utilities, pay health insurance, pay car insurance, buy groceries and buy gas. Our entire personnel budget is less than what your average corporate CEO earns — way less.

But when an earthquake happens at 12:30 a.m., we run down to the office, power up our laptops, and start reporting. When a house blew up last Thursday night, we drove to the scene and covered it. When news happens, we don’t think, “Oh, I’ve put in an eight-hour day — why bother?” We cover the news, as thoroughly and quickly as possible. We don’t do it for the money. We don’t do it for the glory. We don’t do it for the glamor. We cover the news because it’s our job.

In return we ask for a wee bit of change to pay our expenses. We’re not some Russian troll feeding you bad information. We’re not some click-bait site giving you trivia to drive up web views. We’re trained, experienced, award winning, college educated journalists who follow a code of ethics and do our best to give you fact-checked, verified information.

We think that has value. We think that in a democracy and a capitalist economy, providing a service in return for payment is not just business — it’s the American way.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

P.S. If you’re truly strapped for cash, you can read the Homer News for free at the Homer Public Library.