Smile Politely

Best of luck, News-Gazette

It’s really just so sad.

Fact is, I’ve learned to really love The News-Gazette over the past few years, in a way that I hadn’t since I worked my sister’s paper route on Saturday mornings when she chose to train as a figure skater back in the early ’90s.

The writers that the newspaper employs are really tremendous. Don Dodson? Wonderful. Tom Kacich? I’d give a kidney for that silly man on McHenry. Melissa Merli? I’d jump the Boneyard and do a dance in honor of her reporting.

Seriously, the Gazette is really a collection of some of the finest scribblers in the Downstate, and my hat’s off to them. Its writers produce the best news in town, despite the fact that the Editorial Board has their collective head so far up their ass that they can firmly examine the tumors growing in their blackened hearts.

I state that definitively as a magazine publisher with very little to stand behind with regards to hard news. We don’t really do that, or at least, haven’t yet.

We do our best at Smile Politely. Over the past five plus years, we’ve done some great things, some good things, and some really fucking terrible things. But we’re not professionals. Not by any stretch. We’re just … people? We’re primarily just citizens. We’re social critics (in every sense of the word). We shine a light on our community and sometimes what’s revealed there is beautiful and sometimes it’s ugly, and more often it’s everything in between.

But the Gazette writers are a cut above. They are true journalists. They consistently produce great content, and even when they fail, as they did so egregiously last week covering the Urbana Free Library story, they still give the community an important perspective.

So, it was with great disappointment that I learned that as of June 24, 2013, people wishing to read feature articles in The News-Gazette and IlliniHQ would be limited to just eight articles per month before they are given the chance to sign up for an online subscription to their daily dish.

I’d link it here, but I don’t want to waste your precious articles. Shit. I already linked it above. See how that works? Oh well…

Listen. This isn’t about the money. For a monthly subscription, it costs just $7.99 per month. And honestly, that’s a steal for the kind of in-depth and thoughtful reporting you’ll get from Melissa Merli alone.

No, this is a matter of principle, and of backwards thinking. This is the desperate act of a desperate company struggling to come to terms with what is not only real, but incredibly necessary as we move forward as a community, and as a population.

This seems like a cash grab; like one last final push to line the pockets of those in charge as opposed preserving and maintaining the ideals by which they purport to adhere on very same page they justify the new fee implementation:

The News-Gazette charges for this expanded digital access so we can continue to invest in the quality journalism you know and deserve. Real news is the product we sell. It is gathered, reported and edited by trained and experienced professionals who subscribe to a code of ethics. They bring decades of experience to the task of better understanding the world around us.

And that’s cute and depressing all at once, what’s written above, if only because it represents a naivete in their thought process that resembles that of an elderly person beginning to plumb the depths of senility. A hard to road to hoe, as it were.

Fact is, most adults my age and younger will just stop reading the N-G altogether. Sure, it may work for a while for the old school townies that have come to rely on their reporting, but here’s the news: Those people are going to die. Sooner than later.

I mean, with all of the options out there — from ESPN to A Lion Eye to Pitchfork to Daytrotter to BuzzFeed to Deadspin to Daily Illini to Chambanamoms to Facebook to Twitter to Guardian UK to Fox News to RedTube — I am doubtful that even 20% of the people who regularly check their site will sign on. That’s not the way things work anymore. Nope. They will just move on to the next site, as easily as we all canceled our home phones in exchange for our convenient and fancy-pants cell phones-cum-smart devices. The same way we’ll ditch those when it’s time to suck it up and get the chip planted in our eyes.

Oh trust me. You will do it. And so will our kids.

And that’s really, geniunely upsetting. Because the real losers here are all of us. No longer will we live in a community where we have a reliable newspaper that is accessible to anyone and everyone. We now live in a community where we have to pay a small fee to read it. Just the way it used to be.

But that’s the thing. Those days are long gone. And that the brass on REO Speedwagon Way can’t see that is a clear sign of a generational gap that has forever been waiting for arrival.

For $7.99 a month, you can buy any number of things. The first thing that comes to mind is a subscription to Netflix streaming. That’s chock full of entertainment.

The next thing I am thinking of is simply garbage service. We get two cans a week for $3.99.

So, that’s essentially what you can buy: two weeks of garbage removal or an online subscription to The News-Gazette.

My guess is that people are going to choose the former, eventually. Perhaps one day, things might be different? I can remember reading about emails costing a nickel per send, and AIM having a montly rate. Those things never came to fruition because someone, somewhere, recognized quickly that it wouldn’t wash.

And this won’t either.

Personally, I am going to subscribe. Hey, why not? Smile Politely can write it off as a business expense and perhaps even round up the best and the worst of everything that the Gazette publishes each week for your perusal?

My guess is that our advertisers will be okay with it. After all, it’s FREE to be here, and it costs the next person $0.267 cents a day to be there.

I don’t think a quarter will have ever cost a local company so much ever. Unless you consider the idea of a pay phone.

Those are certainly doing quite well these days.

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