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If it isn’t on the Internet, does it happen?

March 5, 2012

One of the ongoing debates in the Internet age is how newspapers are planning to monetize their on-line presence in a way that matches their print revenues (at least at their current levels, if not the heyday of the pre-Internet ink age).

Some major newspapers are trying pay walls that only allow subscribers to view content, while others have gone with subscription mobile applications.

Or in the case of the weekly newspapers I freelance for: no on-line presence at all. The idea is that weekly newspapers operate differently than dailies. They tend to linger, they are hyper-local, and therefore advertisers can see better results. In this case, keeping this hyper-local news off the Internet helps to foster interest in the printed material, which is surrounded by advertising that offers better return on investment.

It’s actually a pretty sound plan that offers little downside to the newspaper.

As for me however, it sucks.

See, I started as a journalist in 1996 and I’ve been bouncing around doing full-time of freelance reporting or photography ever since. I broke stories, captured some pretty good photos, did all the things a reporter/photographer hopes to do when they get into journalism. I find it very fulfilling (though not particularly lucrative).

However, most of my work has never seen the light of day on the World Wide Web – either it was pre-Internet, subscriber only or print only. What I’ve come to realize is, unless it’s on the Internet the world really doesn’t care.

This is just another indicator of the power of the Internet over newspapers. Car sales work the same way.

I would put my reporting and photography up against anybody. I’m not saying it deserves a Pulitzer Prize or a Peabody Award, but it’s solid and professional. However, since my work only falls under the gaze of a few small rural communities in South Jersey, it won’t be seen by many. More importantly, it can’t be easily shared with others via a simple link.

No, if I want to share my work I need to do it the old fashion way, pulling clips or tear sheets. Yup, I have to get ink on my hands and actually cut the stories out and send them around. (The ironic part, I never see the paper since I live two counties away.)

Now, I’m not above a little elbow grease, clips and tear sheets are a fine tradition in the journalism world, but lets face facts, that’s not the way most of us like to get our information – as snail mail or a PDF attachment in an email. Nope, if it’s not web-based it doesn’t have the street cred. It’s just modern human nature.

There may be ways around it. I had a former editor suggest that instead of giving the newspaper all my best shots, I just give them the first, third and fifth best and post the second and fourth here on my blog. However, I can’t do that. I think it’s a disservice to the the newspaper’s reader. When I show up at their event and they find out who I’m shooting for, they’re all hoping to see themselves in the paper, I’m not going to rob them of that just because I want to selfishly show off my work. Also, I’m being paid for my work, the company deserves to get the best I can produce.

So here I am, a good writer and photographer howling into the wilds of New Jersey. I don’t mind it so much. But, I think Mom and Dad would like to see my stuff from time-to-time.

Speaking of the newspaper industry, here are three great articles that came out today about the state of it:

News executives acknowledge ‘toxic’ cultural divide between print and digital (Poynter)

PEJ: Newspapers are losing $7 in print revenue for every $1 in digital gained (Poynter)

The search for a new business model: How newspapers are faring trying to build digital revenue (Journalism.org)

One more thing, here’s two great movie scenes that made me want to work as a journalist in any capacity I could find:

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