John Oliver is just one of the funniest people on television now. I have slapped my knee many times during his “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” show on HBO, and a segment about journalism had me both sad and laughing at the same time.
I have said many times that the plight of large, daily newspapers isn’t comparable to what we do at small, community newspapers. Their overhead is much larger, but more importantly, their owners are usually investment groups looking to make large sums of money instead of serving their community.
We little guys don’t have those problems, because as long as we serve our community, our community usually serves us back.
Oliver took 20 minutes to discuss the issues facing journalism, especially in metro areas, in today’s landscape of digital-first media (his take on this made me nearly spit my coffee).
While Oliver accurately described what is happening in many metro papers owned by investment groups, he hit on something far more important, in my opinion, and that is the fact that you have to pay for good journalism.
Mid-way through his bit, he called out viewers and said that largely people aren’t willing to pay for good journalism even if they do need it. Most of that blame can be laid at the doorsteps of those who decided giving our content away for free was a good idea about 20-some years ago, but that toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube, can it?
Truth is, we as an industry have to do a better job educating and communicating with our communities about why what we do is important and is worth paying for.
We aren’t seeing the advertising fall that Oliver showed in his segment, but we also aren’t giving our product away online, either, so the revenue online isn’t really there, either, which is fine by us.
Personally, we are happy to give away two percent of revenue growth in digital if it means not cutting our legs off in print, so our business plan isn’t going to change anytime soon.
There is a balance coming for our industry as a whole. I believe that whole heartedly. We are continuing to invest in our products and provide good journalism for our communities, and we believe that those efforts will be recognized and paid for because we keep seeing that every day.
My biggest note from Oliver’s segment remains this, though: your community only gets the journalism it will pay for, but with that comes a responsibility by news organizations to do an exceptionable job for those readers.