EDITORIAL: Remember, newspapers are business as usual

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When a Williamson County Commissioner said in a public meeting last week that money didn’t really need to be spent to promote a new county program through newspaper advertising, she quickly followed the comment by saying, “But we hope they will write a story.”

That’s the black hole of the communication business newspapers fall into when things get blurry and we remember few people have ever considered how a local newspaper gets published each week. We act as though it just might magically appear in our mailbox. Perhaps we’ll find that stray reporter with nothing to do who can go sit at a meeting for a few hours and can subsist on a handful of meals per week. Maybe there’s a designer who only wants a creative outlet, not money for rent.

We all want a wide variety of businesses in town, including multiple retail and restaurant options, auto repair facilities, gas stations and more. We also expect there to be a newspaper and a way for us to share or gather information about the community when we need it.

But just like being able to pick up your favorite sandwich or have a new tire put on your car, that service doesn’t come without a cost.

Reporters must be paid. Printing has a cost and distribution is not free. Utilities and a roof make it possible to get the work done for most of us in the business world. It all works the same for your business. It also works the same for government business.

I’m sure the Commissioner has heard time and again that a road needs repaving on the same day they’ve been told our taxes are too high. She probably looks for constructive ways to explain that roads don’t grow on trees or something like that. Well, newspapers are made of trees, but they don’t grow on them either. Nothing is free, not even news and information.

If you consider the newspaper a public service, we appreciate that. We operate as a public service when we report on community news. Otherwise, we would just report on whoever is willing to buy the biggest ad each week. So there would be no story on third graders at Liberty Hill Elementary, no game scores from Panther sports, and no updates on City Council decisions on how they spend your taxes.

But if you want the reporting and the vehicle to share and learn community information, you have to invest in it.

We don’t expect anyone else to offer their goods and services for free. In fact, the newspaper is often urged to “support local businesses” as though we are on the outside looking in on the business landscape.

We did write a story on the Williamson County small business grant program because it is our responsibility to share that information. We shared it the same afternoon it was first discussed publicly, then printed a more in-depth look at the program in this edition of the paper.

And the County didn’t buy an ad to promote it. We were going to do so regardless, but the idea that the newspaper should do the work for free is as silly as the County asking you to write them an insurance policy, build a new park playground, or pave a road at no charge.

When the pandemic put a crimp in all our business plans, we adjusted as necessary, but didn’t sacrifice when it came to our service to this community. In the last five weeks of this pandemic, The Independent staff – under the same challenging circumstances everyone has faced – has produced more than 60 stories to keep the community informed, published a restaurant guide, filmed a handful of videos, and generated dozens of community-responsive posts on social media to boost local businesses. To date, The Independent has directly invested nearly $10,000 in advertising grants awarded to partner businesses in the community.

What we ask is that the community we serve remembers the newspaper needs the same patronage to thrive as any other valued member of the business community. We believe it is important to point out that this is a partnership between businesses that grow best together. There is a sense of value from the community that knows where to turn for the most timely, trusted, in-depth reporting on what is happening locally.

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