Gary Graham: Quality news coverage is a worthwhile buy

News and information are essential parts of a community’s makeup and play critical roles in the daily practice of democracy and public life. The Spokesman-Review and its predecessors have played a vital role in this community for more than 130 years.

The Spokesman-Review and newspapers across the country have weathered unprecedented financial challenges in recent years, and the industry’s tectonic shifts show no sign of settling anytime soon. Advertising revenue and subscription sales are the two main sources of a newspaper’s revenue, and both streams have shrunk considerably, starting with the recession of 2007-08.

The latest step toward improving The Spokesman-Review’s revenue standing is the introduction of a website paywall designed to ask readers to support our journalism by paying for it. The paywall was launched on July 28, and minor adjustments are being made as issues arise. Hundreds of newspapers have adopted similar paywalls in recent years.

Home delivery customers still get free, unlimited access to our website and our mobile site. Paying customers also have access to the daily digital reproduction of the newspaper known as the e-edition. Non-subscribers will be allowed free access to five articles a month. Non-subscribers can receive an additional five articles for free per month by creating a user account at Spokesman.com.

We have received some complaints from non-subscribers about how the paywall is or is not working and we are trying to address some of the glitches. We’re open to making some modifications that make sense.

Here’s a list of all of the content that remains free to all site users: the majority of national and international news service stories, photo galleries and videos, all content in our Friday entertainment section, staff blogs, prep sports coverage, major breaking news stories, obituaries and all advertising.

Content that will remain available only through subscription will include daily news stories and content on the front page as well as the cover pages for local news, sports, features, Outdoors and the Voice sections. All opinion page columns and editorials, the weekly Q&A in the Sunday business section and all local business news also will be available only to subscribers.

The most common question about the paywall is simple: Why should I pay for information, especially since I can get it free elsewhere? It costs real money to maintain a staff of journalists who gather information and report on the community. The Spokesman-Review’s staff of 62 people, the largest in the region, produces the stories and photos for seven days of publication as well as updates the website as news happens. Content services such as the Associated Press are expensive, as is syndicated material such as comics, columnists and editorial cartoons.

It is false to say you can get the same information for free from other sources. Each section of the newspaper and our website regularly offer an exceptional collection of content that was first reported by us or is only available from The Spokesman-Review.

Our local news reporters assigned to the city desk consistently monitor government agencies on behalf of readers and taxpayers. Our reporters also write interesting and compelling pieces by doing such things as a first-person ride across the state’s first cross-state bike route, shedding light on the slumlord ways of a convicted rapist or giving voice to a woman whose brother was killed in an accident involving an STA bus.

How is Sandpoint rebounding from the closure of its largest employer? We discovered there has been progress and we wrote about it.

This weekend, we are featuring a revealing look at the historic Columbia River treaty and its effect on family landowners. In addition to a uniquely talented stable of local columnists with distinctive views and voices, we are also the only news outlet in the region employing reporters to cover the legislatures and state governments in Boise and Olympia.

The Today section, home of our features coverage, is publishing 10 short stories this summer written for our readers by some of the region’s best and most promising writers, our new Freshly Picked column in the food section details what is available at our local farmers markets and a staff-written profile of a Dutch resistance worker prompted the Washington legislature to honor the woman for her wartime work.

The sports section regularly breaks developing stories, ranging from a football coaching controversy at Mead High School, Shock players charged with stealing money in Las Vegas, the firing of the Washington State baseball coach and defections on the Eastern Washington women’s basketball team.

The photography staff’s visual coverage of Eastern Washington and North Idaho is unmatched, ranging from Web-first photos of Washington State football and Gonzaga basketball, comprehensive coverage of regional teams playing in NCAA tournaments, a weekly historic photo feature and photo spreads on life in Spokane’s neighborhoods to videos of a slain Coeur d’Alene police officer’s funeral, an artist who paints people’s deceased pets and a fascinating look at Spokane’s haunted sites.

In the end, the consumer gets to decide if paying for the work of The Spokesman-Review is worth it. Our view is that good journalism matters in our region. To all of us.