I’ve worked through many changes at the Echo Press over the last 35 years.
Going from black-and-white photos to color. Name changes (I still have a company jacket with the Lake Region Echo emblem). Moving from putting together newspaper pages with sharp knives and waxed paper to pagination on a computer screen. Launching a website. Switching to digital cameras. Putting videos online.
Another big change took place last week with the launch of our new paywall system. Gone are the days when people could access all of our online content for free. Now they’ll pay a small fee by signing up for a digital-only membership or combining it with their print subscription.
Fortunately, many readers understand the need for the change. Some have told me they wondered why we didn’t do this years ago.
But some readers, understandably, are feeling a little frustrated. An Alexandria reader, let’s call her Virginia, sent me an email about it last week. She said that she and her husband have been subscribers to the Echo Press for 55 years. Virginia’s husband still reads the printed version but she’s switched to reading it online because her vision isn’t what it used to be and she had someone work on her computer to oversize the letters so she could read.
Virginia said that charging for online access didn’t make sense to her. She ended her email saying she was very disappointed in us.
I sent a response back to Virginia. After I sent it, I realized that the letter might help other long-time subscribers better understand why we made the change to the paywall. Here’s what I wrote:
“Thank you for the email and for being a loyal reader for more than five decades. I'm sorry to hear you are disappointed in us. Newspapers across the country are making this move to a paid website and when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Our reporters work hard, finding sources, interviewing them, taking photos, going to events, writing stories and much more. They should be paid for that. Our content is valuable and our newspaper is filled with local information that you will not find anywhere else.
“Here's the good news: By becoming a member of our site, you will receive many benefits -- news from across 30 different websites that are part of the Forum Communications Company, full access to our news archives, personalized electronic-newsletters, breaking news alerts, members-only discounts and events, and more.
“Here's even better news, regarding your vision. You will also receive the electronic version of our printed newspaper. Just click on the E-Paper link toward the top of our website and the paper will download right onto your computer screen. This will allow you to easily enlarge the print size on any story and photo, just by clicking on the magnifying glass image in the tools at the top of the E-Paper.
“There are many payment options available. Please call our office at 320-763-3133 for more information or if you have trouble activating your account online. Thank you and I hope you will still keep reading the Echo Press.”
One other point I neglected to make to Virginia: The newspaper hasn’t had an increase in subscription rates in over five years.
I don’t know if Virginia will renew her subscription but I sure hope she does. One of the best parts of my job is hearing from people who have been reading and subscribing to the Echo Press for generations. Losing a subscription from one of them is like losing a friend.
And in these challenging, changing times, when newspapers and other businesses are trying to figure out how to battle Amazon, Facebook and Google for advertising dollars, we can use all the friends we can get.
Through the years, this community has been filled with faithful supporters of the newspaper – those who have backed our efforts to open public records, hold public officials accountable and report the news fairly and accurately. The paywall shouldn’t change this. The Echo Press has a goal for how many digital members will sign up in the next year. I’m hoping we’ll shatter it as more and more people realize a simple truth: Journalism matters.
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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.