“Before you click that donate button, time to think long and hard about newspaper business models,” writes the managing editor of RealVail.com, the nemesis and competitor to the “for profit” Vail Daily, which is owned by The Union’s parent, Nevada-based Swift.
Like the Vail Daily in Colorado, The Union in Grass Valley also has launched a donate button on its website during the coronavirus crisis. I flinched when I first saw it here. Newspaper chains holding out a proverbial tin cup?
“There’s a growing school of thought that the old business models just don’t work in the newspaper industry anymore – even in resort markets like ours with captive audiences – and that public, private and nonprofit institutions no longer should be looking to bail out old-school newspaper chains but rather the individual journalists those chains marginally employ,” RealVail.com continued.
Like others, the Swift-owned newspaper in Vail is not standing still. To weather the downturn, “longtime, loyal and dedicated staff members are taking pay cuts of 20% and several staffers at the Vail Daily have been or will be indefinitely furloughed,” RealVail.com’s managing editor continued.
You can learn more about The Union’s own cost-cutting actions, and the impact of the coronavirus crisis on its revenues, in a frank discussion here.
RealVail.com is an online-only “news, political, environmental, business, opinion and outdoor lifestyle site.” In our region, YubaNet might be seen as analogous to RealVail.com in general terms — that is, a free local news website.
To be sure, YubaNet seeks “subscriptions,” but it’s for a specific reason: “raising funds for a standby generating system” costing $25,000. And unlike The Union, YubaNet does not have a print edition that charges subscriptions or a “pay wall.”
It’s no secret that newspapers all over are struggling with their business model in the era of Google and Facebook, and searching for answers.
A “modest proposal” in Canada
An article titled “Turning newspapers into charities: A new model for the future” in the Canadian Journalism Project states: “One idea that is getting some traction [in Canada] is the idea of enabling Canadians to make charitable donations to newspapers—turn them into charities that can accept donations and issue tax receipts.”
“The Canadian government is prepared to give that some thought. In the most recent budget, it promises to explore ‘new models that will enable private giving and philanthropic support for trusted, professional, non-profit journalism and local news.’
“This could include new ways for Canadian newspapers to innovate and be recognized to receive charitable status for not-for-profit provision of journalism, reflecting the public interest that they serve.”
The article concludes: “I know I sound like a downer — I don’t mean to be. I think being able to donate to keep my local newspaper alive is good idea, and one worth exploring.”
We have made donations to YubaNet in the past and would not be opposed to making a donation to The Union either. Publisher Don Rogers is doing a good job given the circumstances and resources. But I’d like to see a long-term plan for survival, well beyond a “donate button.” After all, we have a lot of nonprofits around here who also need our support.