Pay for journalism or we’ll ‘all pay for it’


What follows are three distinct events that share one looming community problem.

A New Middletown friend wrote the following to me a few weeks back:

“Todd – your contact tag line says that you like to hear about stories and about your newspaper. So my request as a Valley reader is purely personal, but here it is none the less. I would love to see in general more sports/event/entertainment coverage regarding Springfield Local.

“Sadly, Springfield is the middle child of the area caught in the middle of media coverage from Columbiana County and Mahoning County and being neglected by both.

“Unless we are breaking records, which happens frequently I might add, we are overlooked with players stats. Kindly develop a soft spot for your neighbors next door. #GoTigers.”

Related for my purposes today:

A group of downtown Youngstown friends were huddling recently about growing that community by raising awareness of the many cool events going on.

Someone suggested the need for an events site.

Another person – still somewhat plugged into what is offered in a newspaper – suggested that creating something new and starting from scratch is not ideal. Instead, they continued, look at what The Vindy has already and see if we can build with them.

And lastly as part of today’s talk:

The country is stunned right now about the bonus paybacks being sought by the Pentagon for military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it exploded from California, it is a nationwide problem.

It turns out that in the mid-2000s with America in two wars, federal officials who were pressured to fill ranks decided to extend re-enlist bonuses to military personnel who should not have been eligible due to their position.

Those misdeeds have been chided, and agency eggheads want the money back from the military staff.

The reality of our current outrage with this:

These paybacks have been a problem for several years. More than $20 million has already been paid back by service personnel – rendering some of them financially crippled. Second mortgages, creditors and multiple jobs and such have been common for those who have caved to the Pentagon’s collection agency letters.

Here’s the bigger tragedy in this:

Congress knew about this for two years. It did nothing.

Yet today, those same congressmen can’t find news outlets quickly enough to condemn the collections.

The outrage they now have, as does every corner of America, is due to one reason:

The L.A. Times.

A newspaper.

Many quality-of-life issues press America every day in ways small and not so small.

The most unforeseen one, in my opinion, is the community deficit we are encountering with depleted community journalism.

New Middletown is solid representation of idyllic small-town America life.

Upstart hipsters pioneering back to America’s cities and downtowns are also a common sight.

And America’s defense operations are as high in the hierarchy of public service and structure as you might find.

All three are very unique sectors of our lives – but share one unique theme right now:

Without community journalism, they are floundering or fraught with abuse.

America, this is coming to a town near you.

If you want to see more how America will be without community journalism, glance at the presidential discussions on Facebook right now.

Facts? Decorum? Context? Balance? It is nowhere to be found amid the spew.

A friend was watching MSNBC Friday – yelling at the station as it worked overtime to tame the latest Hillary Clinton email flap. He yelled: “It’s disgusting. I’ve not seen spin like that ever.”

I told him he has, too. It’s called Fox News.

When Donald Trump screams about bad media, he certainly wants to chide all of it as is his typical bombastic style.

But most media in America are built to serve the scenarios that I used at the start today.

Where can one find accurate and plentiful information about locals schools – from their sports to their events to their spending?

Where can one be informed about fundraisers, events, concerts, lectures and other events that elevate us to a more informed and equipped community?

And maybe most important from the military example:

When some of your government officials ignore your plight and allow you to freefall in life because you are not a significant donor, who will be a voice for you?

It happened to us with earthquakes. It happened to Flint with water. It’s happening right now in Trumbull County with engineering contracts and county job hiring.

One of the best comedic commentaries on television right now is John Oliver and his weekly show on HBO.

In September, he offered one of the best 15-minute takes on the dark that will be cast over communities when local journalism and newspapers are allowed to collapse.

Said Oliver, in a perfect blend of serious and sarcasm:

“A big part of the blame for [the newspaper] industry’s dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce. We’ve just grown accustomed to getting our news for free. And the longer that we get something for free, the less willing we are to pay for it. And I’m talking to you, the person watching this segment on YouTube using the wifi from the coffee shop underneath your apartment. You’re killing us!”

People wanting free is just part of the problem. Some of it is us, too, in media.

We – print, TV and radio – built a revenue-expense model over the last 100-plus years based on advertising paying 80 percent of the tab for content delivered to the community. The thought was that there will always be consumers, thus always a basket of advertisers wanting to reach them through us.

The concept of the internet, or Google, or Facebook was never imagined. And that’s been the doom for media businesses that built a community service model on the Stambaughs and Strousses of America, then the Wal-Marts and Walgreens.

It was presumed they would always need mass media.

And ultimately, it’s a doom for America.

Take it from a nonnewspaper employee like Oliver.

“Sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it.”

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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