If you haven’t noticed, there’s another election coming up. The March primaries will be here sooner than you think. Do you know whom you will vote for? Do you even know who is on the ballot? Did you even know there was an election?
It’s hard to miss the political signs going up everywhere. That, however, is part of the problem. No sooner do the signs from one election come down and the new ones for the next election go up. It’s like the only thing that changes are the names and faces. I really don’t think people bother to look at them anymore.
It used to be that you could pick up a newspaper and not only would you see candidate profiles, stories about issues related to key races, and editorial endorsements, you would also see huge ads from the different campaigns explaining why you should vote for their candidate or against their opponent. I used to work for daily newspapers that would sponsor candidates’ forums and hold editorial board meetings and deeply deliberate political endorsements.
So what changed?
Plenty. For starters, politicians, like many businesses, don’t like to pay for advertising in newspapers if they can spread their word for little or no cost via social media, email and other forms of electronic communication. The end result is that without advertising support, newspapers get smaller and newspaper staffs get whittled to the bone. We now have less space to publish stories and fewer people to write them.
Before you start going on about newspapers being worthless dinosaurs that nobody reads, I want you to consider a few things. First of all, you’re reading one. Obviously you must place some value in it. Secondly, local politicians and businesses place value in it. They may not want to pay to be in the paper, but believe me; my email box fills up everyday with “press releases” that they have a volunteer or a paid a marketing firm to send out.
I can’t begin to count the number of phone and email conversations I’ve had with people who are upset that I won’t publish their “news” (i.e. free ad) because it’s important information that our readers need to know, yet in the same breath they say they won’t pay for an ad because nobody reads the paper anymore. I have some real news for these people – studies show that circulation revenue for newspapers is steadily increasing. When you combine print and digital products, newspaper readership is rising, not declining, as many would have you believe.
Newspapers are as relevant today as they’ve ever been. Because so much content is shared online, more people are reading papers without being aware of it. After all, where do you think the news in your social media news feeds come from? Plus, the number of people paying for digital subscriptions to major newspapers is steadily rising.
When I first came to the Fort Bend Star almost two years ago, I could count on a weekly round of emails and phone calls from people asking us to stop throwing the paper in their yard. Since then, those calls and emails have nearly completely stopped. Now I’m getting numerous requests from people who want to know where they can find our paper. (Walgreens, libraries, and some supermarkets and convenience stores carry it.)
Believe me, readership is great. People are reading the paper and people still want their information in the paper, especially politicians. I know this because I get plenty of press releases from candidates who announce their bid for office. I also get plenty of requests to investigate issues and opponents of various politicians. They want us to do the heavy lifting for them and to give them ample coverage in our pages, but they’re not willing to put their money where their mouth is. They rarely – if ever – buy ads anymore.
That is why I have made it a policy to stop running election news other than filings, pertinent voter information, and election results. I do that because it’s information our readers need to know.
As you may have noticed on the front page of this paper, I am deviating from my policy. I am running very brief candidate bios between now and the election. I’m doing this as an experiment, not for the benefit of the candidates, but for our readers.
In order for me to keep doing this, I need two things to happen. First, I need to hear from you that this is something of value that you appreciate. Secondly, and more importantly, we need the candidates to step up to the plate and advertise again. They need to stop paying out of town marketing firms, sign makers and billboard companies and start investing locally, especially with mom-and-pop organizations like ours who service the very communities they’re trying to represent.
Trust me, we would love to hire more staff, publish bigger papers and cover more local news, but that takes money. The candidates are good at taking your money, but where is the re-investment? We spend a lot of time and money to put them into the paper but it seems the only thing we get back from them are requests for more free publicity.
To put the shoe on the other foot, I like having nice roads to drive on, hot and cold running water, electricity, police and fire protection, etc., but I don’t want to pay taxes for it. Why should I if the cities and counties already provide it? That’s ridiculous, I know, but that’s kind of the way things work.
If we’re relevant enough to publish your news, we’re important enough for you to invest your advertising dollars. This applies not only to politicians, but to businesses as well. If you think people are going to buy your product because they see it online, just remember this – your customer is just a click away from Amazon.
We’re here for the sake and benefit of the people in Sugar Land, Missouri City, Stafford, Meadows Place and the rest of Fort Bend County. If reaching these fine folks is important to you, then we should be as well.