(Astroblogging) A sleepy little 4,000 circulation newspaper in New Mexico has the lion’s share of the responsibility of reporting what should be a national news story, a 61,000 acre wildfire, called the Los Conchas fire, that threatens the Los Alamos National Research Facility. Here 30,000 barrels of nuclear waste is stored in above ground tents. A fire hitting these barrels makes any terrorist’s dirty bomb threat seem like mere child’s play.
The town of 10,000 residents and the 12,000 research workers were evacuated the town and the site, helped by the National Guard. With the town emptied, the town newspaper the Los Alamos Monitor did something that few newspapers ever do, they did not print a newspaper. Instead they relied solely on their online edition to print the day’s news.
Few people outside the print industry realize how huge this decision is. By not printing a newspaper the Los Alamos Monitor forfeited valuable advertising revenue. Despite the hew and cry of the demise of newspapers, the fact is that print advertising revenue still drives the industry. As much as the executives would love to kill the costs of printing and distributing a physical product, to strip the industry of print would kill newspapers altogether. The revenue model does not yet exist for an online product to yield the profit structure of the paper you hold in your hand in the morning. And this is not from a lack of trying on newspaper executives part.
Still again, the Los Alamos decision points out another flaw in the idea that surrendering the industry to an online model. It is such a small newspaper that its online news product is buried under tons of internet pages that regularly hit the first pages of the search engines.
Let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about how news stories are distributed. For many years, and many for newspapers, services like Associate Press News Service would act like a clearing house for stories of national and world importance. Not only would newspapers take stories from the services, the service would pick them up. A story like this Los Alamos fire would likely find a home in newspapers across the country.
Chillingly, we’ve barely heard about it. This is because quite a few newspapers across the country have decided to cut costs by cutting their dependence on large news services and concentrating on content that can be produced onsite.
Now the tiny little Los Alamos Monitor has this huge story with all the best details, not stripped for space into a sound bite, and not only is not getting reported in newspapers across the country its not being picked up by the search engines. A Google search fails to show the Los Alamos Monitor pieces in the first five pages. I stopped looking after that. What does this mean? To read the stories, you would have to know what newspaper to look for.
I think this should all give us pause. In the end the right to free speech and the public’s right to know might not be curtailed by laws but by the chase for page views and the the almighty dollar.
Beth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.