It takes a lot of time, effort and money to produce good journalism

In the late 1990s and ’00s, the corporations running America’s mainstream newspapers did a very dumb thing: They trained Americans to think that news stories should always be free. 

Before the mid-1990s, if you wanted to read a news story, you had to subscribe to a newspaper, or go to a newsstand, vending box or store to buy one. (If you couldn’t afford any of that, you could go to the library.) Even newspapers that didn’t charge a fee, like the RN&R and its alternative-newsweekly brethren, put the news in between ads and personals and other things that subsidized that news. 

Then came the World Wide Web. All the big newspaper companies created websites—and, bafflingly, they started making all of their news available for free, often with little to no advertising around those stories. Then along came social media, where people could easily share newspaper articles with their friends, family members and the world—again, for no charge. 

Eventually, newspaper companies started wising up. They put up paywalls and placed more ads around their news stories, but by then, it was too late. People who were used to going to any newspaper website and reading whatever they wanted got annoyed by things like pop-up ads—and downright incensed when they were forced to pay to get the news they desired. 

Add in the fact that it’s now relatively cheap and easy to build a website and post “content,” and the result is that we live in a world where many people don’t think about the fact that real news stories—well-reported, investigated, crafted and edited stories—take a lot of time, effort and money to produce and distribute. I believe this is one reason why, as Kris Vagner reports in our recent piece about the struggles of University of Nevada, Reno, student newspaper The Nevada Sagebrush, students recently rejected a proposal to pay a modest fee every semester—$1.29 per credit—to support the Sagebrush and other student media. 

Let’s take Kris’ story as an example of what it takes to produce a quality news piece. She interviewed five different people, and then did follow-ups with some of them to answer questions that came up during the reporting process. At least portions of those interviews needed to be transcribed. She had to do research to get all of the facts, figures and dates right. She had to process the photos she took. And then she had to put it all together and write what became a 2,300-word-plus piece. She estimates that process took her about 30 hours.

Next came my edit of the piece. Kris’ copy was pretty clean—it always is—but it still took me a couple of hours to edit, fact-check and format the piece. Finally, the story was handed off to Dennis Wodzisz, our talented graphic designer, who took everything (including a picture taken by photo editor David Robert) and created the cover and the 2 1/2-page story layout for our May print edition. Kris probably spent an hour or so getting everything just right for the online version of the piece as well.

In total, this one story took around 40 work hours, and the talents of four seasoned, paid professionals, to report, investigate, write, edit and design. 

The time, effort and expense doesn’t stop there. Next, 25,000 copies of this print edition were produced by our printer in Las Vegas (there aren’t any local web presses anymore), put on a truck and shipped 450 miles to Sparks. Then our delivery drivers personally dropped off those copies at 700 locations across Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Minden, Gardnerville, Truckee, Incline Village and South Lake Tahoe. Online, we pay for the best web platform, hosting service and ad servers there are available for small newspaper publishers. 

Of course, the RN&R made this story free to you, our readers, both online and in print. We’ve always done that, and as long as I have any say in the matter, we always will. Since the start, our business model has depended on advertisers seeing the value in having their messages placed between our news stories—and because the number of these advertisers is down since the arrival of COVID-19, we’re hurting a bit. 

As for newspapers that charge for news: I dislike paywalls and subscription demands, too—but I understand them. Real journalism is expensive to do. 

If you’re someone who gets angry when you come across a paywall, stop it. And if you value news, and you can afford to pay for or contribute to those news sources you value, but you’re not doing so … that needs to change. What the RN&R and other legitimate news sources do is expensive—and without your support, we will die.