Why I want want you to pay my paycheck.

This week, NCPR is passing the hat.  We’re busking, singing for our suppers, passing the plate.

A couple of years ago, I met a guy at a party who said he thought journalism — and really, all cultural stuff — should be free.  Money corrupts the whole enterprise, he argued.

And really, that ethic dominates a lot of thinking the internet.  People have gotten used to the idea that things like the In Box should be, well, gratis.  They should spring up like flowers.

I asked that guy at the party what he did for a living and for the sake of concealing his identity, I’ll fudge a little and say that he was a plumber.

“A plumber?” I replied.  “So great, I need some work done in my house.  Will you come fix my toilet — for free?”

He looked at me with a puzzled and even slightly indignant expression.

Why on earth would he fix my toilet for free?  Why would he offer his decades of experience and training without any kind of compensation?

Exactly.

The truth is that the In Box isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon.  This isn’t a streetcorner outside the post office, or a bench in the park.  (Not that those things are really free, either.)

The In Box is — boiled down to its essence — an act of professional journalism, where factual ideas and considered opinions are offered, and the debate that follows is moderated.

We work hard to provide you with the kind of service — information, conversation, convenience, a respectful forum — that keeps you engaged and coming back.

And thousands of you do just that.  You choose to come here.

You take part in the In Box week after week, sharing your ideas, your opinions, your arguments.  Working with you on this project has become one of the big joy’s of my day.

But here’s the thing:  Shocking as it sounds, at the end of that work day, I want to pay  my mortgage.  I want to feed my family.  And yes, I want to be able to pay the guy who fixes my toilet.

(Trust me, you don’t want me fixing my own toilet…)

The truth is, I want my work to be respected and (yes) compensated, just as I respect and compensate the people who fill my car with gas, or drop of the newspaper at my door.

I get it.  It’s still shocking to some people to see an open, frank and transparent discussion of money in the context of a thing like journalism, or public radio, or a blog like the In Box.

Here’s my answer to that:  Better this kind of transparency, and honesty, than the alternative.

Indeed, unless you’re willing to participate financially in the future of this blog, I think you face two possible futures.

First, there will only be blogs that are paid for or subsidized by other people, by corporations, or by special interest groups.  Often their motivations and agendas will be obscure.

Secondly, there will be blogs that aren’t professional, that lack a journalist’s ethic.  Those are the blogs where people shout rather than discuss, and flame rather than engage.

So that’s why I have absolutely no reservations about putting the hat in your hands.   I’m saying as bluntly as I can that the right thing for you to do is pay NCPR a little bit — how about $10 or $20?

You would pay your plumber right?  Or your pizza delivery guy?  So call 1-877-388-6277 right now and tell them you read the In Box and want to support it.

Or click here and make your payment, and be sure to mention the In Box.

Because this is the In Box, I’ll also offer this challenge:  If you’re not willing to contribute, why not?  What’s your logic for using a service that you’re not willing to help pay for?  Comments welcome below.

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17 Responses to “Why I want want you to pay my paycheck.”

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  1. tourpro says:

    You left out a Third:

    Blogs that aren’t paid and are “professional”. Who do it for free.

    It’s cool that you’re “passing the hat”, but to claim that The In Box is the only “unbiased, civilized, and ethical” place worthy of support hurts my feelings.

    Hope you make your goal, because it sure would suck to have all us amateur bloggers outlast a real media outfit.

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  2. dave says:

    No surprise, but I’m with Tourpro on this.

    That is some old school, old media thinking right there Brian.

    Sure the internet allows “paid for by” and “amateur” sources of information to exist, and there are a lot of them to be found on the web, but to imply these are the only sources of information out there (other than The In Box) is both factually inaccurate and (bluntly) a little arrogant.

    The power of the internet is that it allows for ALL sources of information to be present. Including, as Doug points out, those that are not paid for and are still professional. The Adirondacks have more than a few of these types of sources and we are lucky to have them along with NCPR

    You can certainly claim that what NCPR does as a whole – its news agency and radio shows, etc – is not something that can be replaced or done by amateurs or without paid support…

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  3. John Warren says:

    Agreed Tourpro,

    Brian’s claim to his blog being the only professional in town is tiresome, and I’ll bet not very productive in getting folks to support the valuable service NCPR provides.

    I edit Adirondack Almanack, and suggesting that the 20 some people who contribute to that site are unprofessional is insulting.

    I have 25 years of journalism experience, and nearly all the contributors there have a long history and a deep understanding of their areas of expertise. I would argue a deeper and fuller understanding than reporters who mostly only touch the surface of a story, often through the same old sources.

    Bloggers around the Adirondack region are also significant contributors to what happens here at The In Box and at NCPR more generally. They contribute to the conversation, they link their own readers; some foster young writers and aspiring journalists. They don’t expect pay for those contributions, but it would be nice if NCPR’s Johnny Come Lately blog didn’t insult those making that contribution.

    Let me say clearly – I support NCPR. I also encourage readers of The In Box and Adirondack Almanack to contribute to keep the station going.

    But enough with this elitist view of your own self-worth.

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  4. rockydog says:

    Brian the In-Box is a great blog and I wish it to continue. It is above all others. Keep up the good work.

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  5. Brian Mann says:

    Folks –

    These are legitimate comments, worthy of discussion. But I’ll say it again: Asking to get paid for your work is not elitist.

    John Warren is working hard to create a business model for his Adirondack Almanack website, because he too wants to earn a decent living and (I presume) wants to eventually pay his contributors for their work.

    We’re doing EXACTLY the same.

    Obviously, there is a place out there for honest, ethical bloggers who don’t view themselves as professional journalists.

    And if you think those folks can provide the media services and content that you want, fine.

    Obviously, you shouldn’t contribute to something (like the In Box) that you don’t use, want or need.

    But if you’re coming to the In Box, and using this website, then you are using a professional service.

    And no, I won’t apologize for believing that my craft, my quarter century of training, experience and expertise, should be a legitimate way to earn a living.

    I won’t apologize for saying bluntly that I think the people who use this “product” should support it financially.

    Here’s why I’m so passionate about this.

    I started out in the community radio world, where many of my colleagues (and our audiences) were incredibly hostile to the idea of thinking and talking honestly about the importance of earning a living and paying the bills.

    Because they didn’t make an argument for financial support, many of those community stations are gone. Or a shadow of their former selves.

    Doing what we do here takes resources. It takes editorial support. It takes fact-checking. And yes, it takes paying people to do the work well.

    If you think that sounds elitist, fine. But it’s no more elitist than the plumber who says he provides a worthy service.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  6. John Warren says:

    Brian, no one said that asking to get paid for your work was elitist, or any of the other straw-men claims you are making about the commenters here.

    Believing that you are the only professional alternative, because you are paid, is elitist.

    People from our community contribute to NCPR programming for free all the time – Curt Stager and Amy Ivy come to mind. That doesn’t make their contributions any less valuable.

    Your services are valuable, you need not diminish the contributions of others.

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  7. dave says:

    I suspect no one has a problem with your statement that you should be paid for whatever services you feel you are providing… However, this post went beyond that and claimed that without your services, there would somehow only be unethical, unproffesional, uncivilized blogs left.

    You can see the difference between the two statements, can’t you?

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  8. Jim Bullard says:

    You don’t need to apologize Brian. We need to think about money differently. It isn’t “silver certificates”, it is certificates of gratitude. Gratitude for the things and services we receive. I’m glad NCPR is there and I contribute every month. If you are using the service, you should be too.

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  9. tourpro says:

    I like NCPR. I also think it great to get paid and make money.

    Clearly, Brian, in his comment response won’t or can’t admit to the implication in his post regarding the potential consequences of non-funding.

    Quote:

    “Indeed, unless you’re willing to participate financially in the future of this blog, I think you face two possible futures.

    First, there will only be blogs that are paid for or subsidized by other people, by corporations, or by special interest groups. Often their motivations and agendas will be obscure.

    Secondly, there will be blogs that aren’t professional, that lack a journalist’s ethic. Those are the blogs where people shout rather than discuss, and flame rather than engage.”

    Almost every New Media Publisher aka “blogger” I know does not fall into the first category. Sure, there are actual Interest Groups also “blogging”, but it’s no mystery what their goals are. I think most engaged audiences are smart enough to figure out each writer’s paradigm.

    So, we must be in the second category. Please enlighten me Brian. Where is the non-transparent, unprofessional, flame-fest, shout blogging happening in the North Country? What did we do to get this label?

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  10. Brian says:

    Guys –

    Fair enough. It’s absolutely true that people do interesting, creative, ethical, fascinating things on-line for free.

    So that begs a question:

    Is there anything that exists on a professionally developed journalism site like this one that’s worth supporting?

    Is there anything different here — and enough different that it’s worth your $10 or $20?

    My argument, and I’m sticking to it, is that the answer is Yes.

    This isn’t an old-media-vs-new-media argument. It’s not elites vs. citizen journalists. (Though I acknowledge that my original essay walked us down that path…)

    The point I was trying to get at is really a fairly blue collar, punch-in-punch-out way of looking at things.

    I want to work hard at creating things like radio news stories, and In Box discussions, and public forums.

    And then I want the people who use those “products” to leave something in the jar as they walk out the door.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  11. tourpro says:

    Big hug Brian.

    The content and traffic should speak for itself be sufficient reason to monetize.

    If the content is good and unique enough that the demand for it justifies – go ahead and put up a pay-wall like NYT is attempting. (not sure you can do that with public funding?) Or you could run Google Ads. Or display ads. Heck, even just asking for money is also valid method.

    Those methods of funding probably sound might familiar. Quite old-school, and mostly used by non-PBS mainstream media. Personally, I think they are limited or dead-ends. (Except display ads, any good web property should be able to find compatible advertisers – probably never enough to support a real business)

    The power to publish and distribute has been nearly eliminated. That’s the real issue you/we face. Journalism itself is no longer a functionally useful term. We need a new way of defining things, and a new way of funding the process.

    Good Luck and If you ever need plumbing repair tips, don’t hesitate to reach out. (I learned everything about home improvement while listening to NCPR. << only half-joking about that!)

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  12. dave says:

    “Is there anything that exists on a professionally developed journalism site like this one that’s worth supporting? Is there anything different here”

    As an entire entity. The radio shows, the journalism, the entire NCPR website… The combination of these efforts is what presents something unique, and “different”, and valuable – in my opinion.

    So, for me, yes – absolutely worth supporting.

    But I do draw a distinction (that you may not) between the totality of what goes on NCPR, and this blog alone… which was the focus of your point in this post – or, at least, that was how it came across to me.

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  13. oa says:

    Brian puts a lot of time into this thing. His time is worth something. He has an audience. He fills a niche (though I wish he’d stop taking Politico at face value:)). Asking for money is a perfectly acceptable “business model,” and in many ways a far more refreshingly honest one than selling google ads and having the Matrix creepily track every reader’s virtual jot and tittle, then selling it to GE. I love the “Pay What You Can” ethos, and I’m fine with Brian gently shaming people into doing it. Pay the man.

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  14. Bret4207 says:

    “Because this is the In Box, I’ll also offer this challenge: If you’re not willing to contribute, why not? What’s your logic for using a service that you’re not willing to help pay for? ”

    I’m already paying for it through taxes and when I use a sponsor. I like the In Box, I like NCPR. But if it all disappeared the effect on my life would be minuscule. I choose to use what extra income I have to help family and friends directly.

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  15. Peter Hahn says:

    Bret – you could calculate how much of your taxes goes into it, but its probably well less than a nickel per year. I suppose that is the justification for the tax subsidy. To make up for all the people who get to listen, but cant afford to (or dont want to) support the local station.

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  16. Bret4207 says:

    Pete, it’s still a nickel taken from me through extortion that I have no say over. I contributed for several years, someone on the staff chose to move the station into a place it shouldn’t have gone. Actions have consequences.

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  17. Brain, here’s someone who agrees with your premise but perhaps says it a tad more diplomatically

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