Beginning Monday, swoknews.com moved to a subscription-based model. Don’t worry. If you’re reading this, it means you’re probably a subscriber, and it’s included with your subscription. It’s the people who don’t pay to have the paper delivered who will be impacted the most.
On my desk, there’s a copy of The Lawton Constitution from Nov. 22, 1963. The headline screams “KENNEDY DEAD”, larger, even, and above the name of the newspaper. It was sent to me by a lady in Colorado whose husband had kept it and, after he passed, she wanted it to return “home”.
It’s similar, yet so different than the product we produced last night that you’re now holding. There are no color photos, and the news type is tiny by today’s standards. Only one of the nine stories on page one doesn’t deal with the Kennedy assassination.
The paper cost a nickel and a monthly subscription was $2.60. Admission to the “Better Living Exposition” was 50 cents, and you could buy a three-piece set of living room furniture for $59. A new “innerspring” mattress was $19. You could go to the Austin drive-in for 60 cents, or buy a ticket to see Robert Mitchum in “Rampage” at the Vaska for 75 cents. A suit with two pairs of pants was on sale for $59 at The Dixie. A new ‘64 Rambler was $1,896.
It must just be human nature to think back and long for the good ‘ol days. But, change is inevitable. And eternal.
In the late ‘90s, one of my former bosses told me he was glad he wasn’t as young as I was. He saw what the newspaper industry was facing and said he was happy he wasn’t going to have to deal with it. It was not long after my newspaper had set up its first website. No one truly understood the impact of what was to come.
There was huge debate inside the industry then: Should our websites be free, or should people pay to have to read them? You know what happened. Most of the “influencers” decided free and the industry created a market where we gave away the most valuable item we produced: Local news.
A few of us pushed back on that model. A good friend wisely noted, “You don’t go to cocacola.com, put your cup up to the screen and get a cup of content.” Simply, you can’t take your most valuable product and give it away to everyone.
So, as an industry, we created some of the very market conditions that we battle today.
I believe that quality local news has value, and that readers understand that the writers, editors and technology have to be paid for somehow. Advertising, which for decades funded 70+ percent of virtually every newspaper I’ve ever been associated with, no longer carries the load.
Honestly, we’d planned to make this change almost a year ago. If you’ve been in Lawton awhile, you may remember that The Constitution used to have paid access. We suspended that while we rolled out a new website in December 2019 to make sure all the bugs were worked out. But with the emergence of COVID-19, we wanted to make sure local citizens, many of whom were homebound, could get to as much local news as we could provide in those uncertain times.
Subscribers will still have full access to swoknews.com, as well as the e-edition, at no additional cost and as part of their print or online only subscription. We’ll make limited stories, breaking news, and critical community happenings free for everyone, but only subscribers will have unrestricted visibility.
Non-subscribers will still be able to come to the site and read the headlines and the first part of a story, kind of like looking through a rack at the convenience store to see the start of a story in the print edition. But they’ll need to either subscribe or purchase a day pass (the equivalent of buying a paper out of the rack) in order to see everything. No carrier brings that electronic news to your home, but the technology used to host, publish and create all this “digital” journalism has a cost as well.
If you’re a subscriber and you hit that electronic wall, our staff will help you set it up so you can get what you’re already paying for. And, if you’re a subscriber, thank you. If you’re not, we hope you’ll join the family and help support local journalism. It’s never been more necessary, or more important.
David Stringer is the publisher of The Lawton Constitution, a past-president of the Oklahoma Press Association and a media professional for over 40 years, more than half of that in Oklahoma. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.