Picture this: a man walks into Wal-Mart and straight lines it to the milk section. He grabs a gallon of his favorite milk and heads right back out the way he came without so much as a look at the cash registers. On his way out the door, an employee stops him. “Hey, you didn’t pay for that!” the employee says. The man looks at her and says, “Well, Target sells milk, Chief sells milk, and Meijer sells milk. With so many places to get my milk at, I thought you should give yours away for free to get me to come here.”

Most of us would think this guy is crazy and I doubt anyone would support him trying to leave the store without paying for his milk. His logic is flawed. If Wal-Mart gave their milk (or any product) away for free just because other stores have it they would eventually have to lay off workers and then would likely close their doors. Why then, do so many news readers demand to have all the articles they could possibly lay their eyes on for free?

In a world with a lot of fast-paced news, it might be easy to find national headlines anywhere, but here in small Van Wert, the stories provided by the local paper are often not found anywhere else. Last August the Times Bulletin implemented a paywall, which is a system that requires payment for certain stories after a set amount of free ones have been viewed. However, the majority of the sections on the Times Bulletin website are still “free” to view.

This concept has been around far, far longer than when the Times Bulletin began to use it. In the early 2000s, as the internet became the way many started to receive information, print subscriptions began to decrease.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. print newspaper subscribers, ad revenue, and employees have taken a hit in the last three decades. The Post reported that nearly 600 million people subscribed to U.S. newspapers in the early ’90s; that number is now under 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today. Likewise, ad revenue has fallen from around $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2019. And newsroom employees have felt it the hardest with employment falling nearly 40 percent between 1994 and 2014.

Here at the Times Bulletin there are three official employees in the newsroom – Reid, Sherry, and I. We work hard to put a paper together and hope that whatever we can’t personally cover, that there is a freelance writer available to attend.

To help with the decline in revenue, many papers in the early 2000s turned to paywalls to survive. The New York Times and the Washington Post are two of these on a large scale who have had great success. The New York Times reported an online sales jump of 46 percent in 2017 and has reported growth for the first time in years. I pay to subscribe to both the New York Times and the Washington Post because I decided I wouldn’t be a part of them going out of business. I love and support newspapers and other journalists.

Locally, the Putnam Sentinel and the Paulding Progress have used paywalls for years.

When the Times Bulletin implemented a paywall, I was initially skeptical, but over time I saw that it had zero effect on our readership. Actually, since the paywall has been implemented, we’ve had some of our biggest amount of visitors come to our website and we’ve specifically had new customers join us because they want to read more than their three allotted stories a month. While the paywall has had no negative effect on our readership, I hear constant complaining that people want everything to be free, and I am forced to believe it is because they don’t understand the consequences of the local newspaper not finding new ways to increase revenue.

Recently someone suggested I write an op-ed about a local service closing. I had declined because I knew people wouldn’t like my response. When I see a service close I always ask, “How much did you donate to keep it open?” or “What did you do to support it?” I ask the same thing when a local store closes and people say, “It’s such a shame. They need to stay open.” My question is, “Did you shop there regularly? Did you support them financially regularly in any way?” So often people want something for nothing. All businesses, even non-profits, require money to function.

I hear a lot about supporting local businesses and how important that is. And that’s great, we should all support local business, including our local newspaper. Next time you’re on the Times Bulletin website and hit the paywall, consider supporting local journalism.