“The newspaper industry today is in big trouble … and that affects all of us.”
That’s the thesis of John Oliver’s brilliant Last Week Tonight segment from August skewering trends in journalism and training a glaring spotlight on the erosion of newsrooms across the county.
Oliver decries the fact that advertising is producing less revenue year over year for news, leading to cutbacks in newsrooms and less coverage of local government.
Oliver runs a clip of David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of The Wire, who bemoans the fact that aggregation sites like The Huffington Post don’t send reporters to Baltimore Zoning Board meetings. Simon notes that such coverage is “the bedrock” of a free and democratic society and that the failure to cover local government is a recipe for rampant political corruption.
In another clip, the owner of a newspaper berates a reporter who is worried that giving readers what they want (in an effort to produce “more clicks”) will result in coverage of puppies over coverage of Iraq. The publisher chides her for “journalistic arrogance” and tells her that if they can get enough traffic from puppies maybe then they can also cover Iraq, then yells, “F*ck you!” at the reporter.
When this Last Week Tonight segment came out in August, a number of friends emailed the link to Carolyn Maynard-Parisi and me, the two editors/reporters/publishers/janitors at Village Green.
First, we’d like to name John Oliver as Village Green’s 2016 Sexiest Man Alive. He may be a bespectacled, diminutive Brit in need of dental work, but he gets us, he really gets us.
Second, Village Green is doing a lot of what Oliver points out needs to happen but is not happening in many communities across the nation due to a lack of revenue.
“A big part of the blame,” said Oliver, regarding the erosion of revenue in journalism, “is on us and our unwillingness to pay for journalism. We’ve been getting it for free.”
In Maplewood and South Orange, we’re better than that. When Village Green instituted a limited, metered paywall in May (5 free articles per months with certain pages on the site not counting toward the meter), scores of community members stepped up. We now have nearly 500 active subscribers paying either $5/month, $15/quarter or $39/year to have unlimited access to the site.
This, on top of our traditional banner and box ads on the page (thank you, Village Green advertisers!), are helping to keep us afloat and pay for journalism such as:
- an in-depth look at the causes behind all the administrative turnover in the South Orange-Maplewood School district
- a deep-dive on what is driving the increased number of school-age children in our towns, followed by a report on facilities needs and enrollment trends in the school district
- ongoing, comprehensive reporting on allegations of HIB in the Columbia High School baseball program (see here, here, and here.)
- working to help a local disabled single mom find affordable housing in Maplewood
- continued coverage on race and policing in our towns, from a comprehensive review of the police departments’ community outreach programs to the Clergy Alliance to this summer’s #NotInOurTwoTowns protests to current investigations into allegations of racial profiling, and more
- step-by-step coverage of the adoption and implementation of the school district’s Access & Equity policy, an effort to bridge the achievement gap between white and black students and answer lawsuits by the ACLU and U.S Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights
- spotlights on local businesses and the stories behind them including recent profiles of J&J Caribbean and a new farm-to-table restaurant to be opened by a local couple
- important public safety stories, including the recent arrest of a 13-year-old charged with the carjacking of a woman in Maplewood; a sexual assault in DeHart Park; coverage of the Hoboken train crash, reporting on the former CHS student charged in the NY/NJ bombings, and ongoing articles on the CHS teacher accused of sexually assaulting students.
- painstaking coverage of the many new developments in the towns from Third & Valley to the proposed Fourth & Valley, the conversion of South Orange Village Hall, the 235-unit Avalon Bay project, the Post Office development, Maplewood’s first Wawa, Orange Lawn Tennis Club’s controversial Villas project and more. We were the first to break the news about Starbucks coming to the Clarus development in Maplewood Village.
- Local government coverage on everything from proposed leaf blower bans to efforts to limit retail chains to town-wide rehabilitation designations to feral cat programs
- Stories of local heroes from Mr. Wise, the beloved school custodian who knows every child, to Joe Callaghan, the Maplewood firefighter who gave up a kidney for fellow firefighter Greg Snell.
And there’s so much more. We can’t do it without your support. Yes, it’s not all Watergate-style investigative reporting (we aren’t covering Iraq, for certain), but we keep a constant eye on government meetings, elections and policy discussions and we shine a light on the elements of our community that make us unique, as well as inform our readers of all the great events, organizations and businesses in town.
And, indeed, occasionally we run a puppy story.
Please consider supporting Village Green and ensuring our future by becoming a subscriber. Click here.
As John Oliver says, “Sooner or later we are all going to have to pay for journalism or we are going to pay for it. Because if we don’t, not only will malfeasance run amok but the journalism movies of the future are going to look a lot more like this”: