These topics have been on my mind for the past few days. Let me explain how they are related.
I came across a rather blunt column written by Chris Faraone, a columnist for DigBoston, an alternative weekly newspaper (think Seattle’s The Stranger) in Boston. The column is peppered with expletives (I DID say it was like The Stranger, right?) but it’s a good read. It points to a frustration I’ve had for some time about what people SAY about supporting journalism and then what they actually DO.
I’ve talked before about the challenges facing the news business. Many of you are tired of hearing about it. However, many others urge me to keep talking about this issue, too. So here it goes.
I believe I can objectively address the ongoing push-pull between news and publicity/public relations. I’ve worked in both professions. I have watched as local news organizations have significantly cut back on their staffs or even shut down over the years. It’s the perfect opportunity for publicity people to fill in the gaps by providing information about events that news organizations no longer have the staff to cover.
As someone who works on a shoestring budget with minimal staff, I appreciate the work of publicists, marketing people and business owners who send information my way that I might not already know about. That said, there’s a brutal reality about the publicity business. As Faraone says (expletives edited):
I CAN’T HELP BUT REALIZE JUST HOW MANY OF OUR FORMER ADVERTISERS NOW BLOW THEIR ENTIRE MARKETING BUDGETS ON PUBLICISTS. THE SAME XXXXXXX PUBLICISTS WHO THEN COME TO US FOR COVERAGE. IMAGINE THAT! THE XXXXXXX NERVE.
Faraone goes on to write
“…UNLESS THEY REPRESENT A NONPROFIT OR MOVEMENT OR CAUSE THAT SPEAKS FOR OPPRESSED PEOPLE, FROM NOW ON I’LL BE SENDING ALL THEIR PRESS RELEASES TO THE SPAM FILTER, WHERE THEY RIGHTFULLY BELONG. OH, YOUR CLIENT’S RESTAURANT JUST WON SOME INTERNATIONAL AWARD? XXXX XXX, BUY AN AD. DID YOU SAY THE NATIONAL MUSICIAN WHO EMPLOYS YOU HAS A SHOW COMING UP IN BOSTON? XXXX XXX, BUY AN AD. IN FACT, BUY TWO ADS. I MAY SOUND LIKE A PRICK, BUT THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM DEPENDS ON IT.”
Whether you are reading The New York Times or Lynnwood Today, you must acknowledge that producing journalism is NOT free. Yes, I’ve talked about this before. Writers, editors, photographers, ad sales and graphic design and tech support staff deserve to be paid something for their work. Not to mention the fees we pay for web hosting, computer backups, office supplies, insurance, etc. etc. etc. And then there are the myriad donations we make to worthy causes.
Those of you who read my column understand that we receive our financial support in two ways — 1) through advertising from local and regional businesses and 2) through voluntary subscriptions. Here’s the brutal truth. There are PR people out there who send us news releases about very well known (and large) events and/or involving very large and seemingly well-heeled companies and organizations. There are also small business owners who send us announcements about local events aimed, ultimately, at getting people into their businesses.
In the case of the former, I always think twice about publicizing those activities. Take Seattle- or Everett-based home shows or garden shows or (insert name of) any other regional event. Those publicists are paid to get stories placed in publications like ours. As such, they look for local angles — “did you know that xxx (insert name of local business) has a booth?” Well, yes, and that might deserve a mention. But as Chris Faraone says, “Buy an ad. In fact, by two ads.”
But they don’t.
In the case of small business owners, the response is a little different. I am passionate about supporting our small business owners. I know they are the lifeblood of our communities. I want them to be wildly successful. We publicize what they send.
We are also a local business. And we can’t continue to exist without the support of local business owners. And if we don’t exist, who will run their news releases? Who will publicize their events? And I understand that not all business owners can afford to advertise with us. But I am absolutely certain that every one of them could subscribe for $10 a month or even $5 a month or even $3 a month.
Every single one of them.
I am also certain this applies, with very few exceptions, to our readers.
Many of you — both individuals as well as business owners, have subscribed. I thank you.
But many of you have not. So I have to ask: Why not?
We are here for you. We provide a valuable service. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Unlike other local publications, we don’t have a “paywall” that requires you to subscribe after you read a few articles. We don’t require you to pay us, or to register, or any other such nonsense, to read archived articles either.
But we do need your support. Now. You got $10 a month to spare? $5 a month? $3 a month? Subscribe today.
With appreciation, until next time.
P.S. Regarding “all the jazz,” we are so proud that two our local high schools — Edmonds-Woodway and Mountlake Terrace — have been selected to perform in the prestigious Essentially Ellington Jazz Festival in New York City in May. It costs money for these high school students to travel to New York, and not all of them have the means to afford it. So between now and April 30, 2017, we will donate 10 percent of all subscriptions or donations received, to these two schools’ Essentially Ellington fundraising efforts.