Take down those paywalls: Our citizens need all the news they can get

The New York Times. Photo by Diane Rado.

Many of us who have spent a lifetime writing for newspapers have heard for years that the very papers we deliver each day are slipping away, changing to electronic screens on our computers, cell phones and other gadgets.

I remember those who many years ago suggested that our news stories would some day be delivered on individual fax machines that would spit the day’s news out a page at a time.

Some big time news executives from big cities told us way back in the 1980s that printed paper would disappear by the year 2000. They didn’t even suggest that some papers might disappear altogether.

Newspapers have been scary places to work for most of the last couple of decades. Layoffs, buyouts and disappearing staffers have been a hallmark of many publications.

And many publications, particularly those in small towns, have simply gone out of business. There are entire communities in Florida and many other places where there is no source of local news.

A few of the really big papers — like The New York Times and The Washington Post — are succeeding in both print and online editions with millions of readers.

But most mid-sized daily papers are losing readers and cutting back.

In this atmosphere, far less information is getting out to citizens who need to vote, making our country more susceptible than ever to rumors and misstatements of every kind.

Never has this been worse than right now, as we deal with all the trauma of a pandemic and some of the nation’s leaders are denying we have a serious problem.

I’ve watched television interviews with people who say they don’t believe any of the reports about the coronavirus – they think it’s a plot against President Donald Trump by Democrats.

They ignore the fact that some citizens are sick and dying.  It’s a scenario better than Vladimir Putin could have envisioned on his best day of spreading propaganda.

I wish all of the nation’s newspapers would take a hard look at this and take down their paywalls, so anyone can read their stories and be able to make  decisions with the facts in front of them.

And let’s do it not only with stories about the coronavirus pandemic, but with stories providing details on the candidates in the coming elections, including Florida’s March 17 presidential primary.

I understand that newspapers like to count clicks and get paid every time someone clicks on a story, but we are in a real crisis — not just with health care, but with politics.

Our citizens need all the news they can get.

I understand that removing paywalls would not convince some of those who don’t really want to be informed, but it should help to responsibly spread dependable information.

At our house we pay for online subscriptions to four daily newspapers – and get print editions of two weekly papers. On Sundays we go out and buy paper copies of the New York Times and whatever local paper we can find.

I still love the feel of paper in my hands along with a cup of coffee in the early morning hours.

Newspapers do make mistakes but they and some of the online publications such as the Florida Phoenix are still the most comprehensive sources of what’s happening in the world we live in. (The nonprofit Phoenix has no paywall.)

If you are depending on television, you get only the cream at the top, and rarely see the details you need to totally understand what is going on.

So in the interest of communicating more information to more people, let’s take down the paywalls, at least until November.