Online ads: Sadly, they are necessary to pay the bills

Earlier this year, I tried an experiment with this website. I dropped advertising because I felt it had gotten in the way of communicating with words and photos.

Good intentions but one that violates the economic rules of survival.

It takes money to put a comprehensive website on the internet and keep it up and running.

Blue Ridge Muse is one of several websites I operate. They require a dedicated server. As a semi-retired man in his 70s, I live on a pretty-much fixed income. Costs go up. Income does not.

Taking ads off Blue Ridge Muse added additional drains on our resources and I had to make a decision: Take Muse down or accept ads, so I could keep it up and running.

So ads have returned. So far, thankfully, I haven’t received a single complaint about their appearance of Muse.  Readers of Capitol Hill Blue have lived with ads since its creation in 1994. It uses wire service articles and syndicated columns that require payment and ads help pay some — but not all — of the cost.

Since Muse is a one-person operation who doesn’t draw a salary — me — the costs are lower but even so, the costs of maintaining dedicated server space still passes the income level of ads. They reduce the load on our existing resources, enough — we hope — to keep it and our other sites going.

Sadly, online news suffers many of the challenges that print edition face. Ad revenue income is down across the board. Even media powerhouses like The Washington Post and New York Times must use subscription services to supplement their ad income. It is frustrating to most of us to click on a link that seems to offer information or a good read and find that reading the full article requires a subscription.

I made a decision years ago that I would never put up a “paywall” requiring readers of Capitol Hill Blue to read the political news we publish. I’d rather shut the thing down than do that to our readers.  Many of them have been loyal since Blue went live 25+ years ago ad continues as the oldest continually published political news site on the internet. Many of those who help keep the site up and running are volunteers who, like me, work without payment to try to keep non-partisan political news on the web.

Taking news online is not automatic salvation. Many news sites have laid off staff members in recent months. HuffPost cut 7% of its staff earlier this year.  BuzzFeed trimmed its ranks by 15 percent. USA Today’s online operations have reduced its staff.

“Economic headwinds are hitting newsrooms across the industry, affecting once-bullish digital shops and longstanding newspapers alike,” reports CNN.

The digital layoffs are part of the loss of 7,200 jobs in media this year.

In 2012, Jeffrey Cole of the Center for the Digital Future gave newspapers only about five years to survive.

Now, seven years later, he admits his forecast was “a bit off.”

Jeff Bezos, currently the richest person in the world, stepped in to buy the Washington Post, while the ailing Los Angeles Times was recently bought by the wealthiest man in Southern California. Two well-regarded newspapers, The Guardian in the U.K. and the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times), are controlled by foundations not subject to the pressures of investors. All the billionaire or foundation papers are winning Pulitzer Prizes and doing better journalism than ever.

One of the reason newspaper have survived was the improbable election of Donald Trump as president.

The best trend of all is that a controversial president has greatly increased interest in news (both newspapers and television). When people want to know what is happening in their world they go to professional journalists. There is even a movement in 2018 to scrub Facebook and as much of the internet as possible of “fake” news.

Everything about the future of newspapers is bright except the future of holding the paper in our hands.

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