Friday, April 14, 2006

Half the Story from the East Oregonian

Here's an intriguing headline tonight:
M-F candidate confronts demonstrators
Greg Sterling, candidate for the City Council at large position No. 3, was arrested last Thursday under suspicion of confronting students during a demonstration concerning immigration. Sterling, 50, was cited for disorderly conduct and later charged with misdemeanor assault.
That's Milton-Freewater, for you Cascadians, at the very top of Umatilla County along the Washington border out near Pendleton, and across the river from Walla Walla. In fact, the Pendleton/Hermiston East Oregonian is where I found out about this story. So a guy running for Council was arrested for assaulting students at an immigration demo. And? What kind of demo was it, and what were the students saying? Was it an "embrace our guests" rally, seeing as how M-F is about 1/3 Hispanic? Or was it a "beaners go home" demonstration from a skinhead youth mob? I'm not sure which type of group's assault would fascinate me more. What the heck was he doing there? Wouldn't you like to know?

I sure would...but in order to do that I have to either take the paper in print, or kiss off $10.79 a month ("in advance", as they say) to find out the details. Well thank YOU very much!

I get the economic rationale here. The market for print news is dying on the branch. Ink is going up, ad revenue is going down, sales bleeding. And where is it bleeding to? The internet, mostly. So given the fact that the East O is nowhere near as capitalized or secured as the big boys, times must be pretty tense about how to keep the money coming in.

But someone in accounting needs to step back a bit and consider things from both the pragmatic and the Jimmy Stewart idealist perspectives. First, the Mr. Smith version: information yearns to move freely and unimpeded in the new world. It was "free" information leaking over the Iron Curtain by satellite and then computer that brought down the Soviets. The people discovered they were getting a raw deal, and they decided they'd had enough of the revolution. And it's free information, in fits and starts, that's bringing China into the modern community of nations. Information, particularly in public affairs, is the very lifeblood of civil society. So the East O's taking a commodity that seeks freedom, and placing it behind keys only people with $125 a year have, smacks a little of immoral contempt for the custodial positions they hold.

And now let's be realistic, EO: look around you, everybody is putting their online news up for free. OK, not literally everybody--the Bend Bulletin is another scrooge that comes to mind--but all of the biggies, nearly all the mid-size papers, and most of the very little guys, too. Props to papers like the Port Orford News, which just puts out a weekly and takes the time to upload it in pdf for you to read, free as the day you were born.

So what is the EO really earning by shutting off their content? Emnity for appearing out of step, and a guaranteed stagnant web presence. Hey dudes--they sell ad space on the net, too. But ad revenue's not the point. If your news was free, I'd have linked right to it tonight, and the growing number of people who visit Loaded Orygun might have clicked and suddenly found themselves reading about YOUR town, YOUR county, YOUR area, East Oregonian. They might have said, hey--they've got a pretty kick-ass rodeo out in Pendleton round Labor Day, don't they? I might just saddle up the kids, rent a hotel room for the weekend, and spend a few hundred dollars there. And while they're at breakfast before heading home, they might just stop at the box outside the restaurant and pick up a copy of the stagnating, pennywise and poundfoolish 19th century newspaper you're putting out. Or not.