From The Editor: Coverage of our area is vital, and comes with a cost

Modesto Bee photographer Andy Alfaro, left, and staff writer Garth Stapley, right, two of The Bee’s awarding-winning journalists.
Modesto Bee photographer Andy Alfaro, left, and staff writer Garth Stapley, right, two of The Bee’s awarding-winning journalists. jlee@modbee.com

In recent weeks, The Modesto Bee has drawn the ire of some of our non-subscribing readers.

Prior to this month, if you came to stories on our website via social media or a search engine, you had unlimited access to our articles. Now, you can read five headlines from our Facebook page or from Google.

Non-subscribers, who no longer have access to free stories, are angry. Our work should be free, they say, and they’re sharing with others ways to get around the limit.

In my book, that’s akin to stealing.

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Every month we give away five free products – stories professional journalists have reported on and written. Not many businesses do this for their customers. I walk into the downtown Starbucks nearly every morning, but I don’t expect five free grande coffees a month.

Every day – 365 days a year, including holidays – the journalists here at The Bee work to serve our community.

In the past few months, we’ve written about former youth pastors allegedly sexually abusing young girls at a local church. We’ve offered comprehensive coverage of the state water board’s plan to pull water from our rivers, and the impact it could have on our economy. We’ve reported on proposals to help solve our homelessness challenges and kept a close eye on those who spend our tax dollars.

Brian Clark

We’ve reported on who will represent California in Congressional District 10 and the impact it’s having nationwide.

Just last week, dogged reporting by our Erin Tracy revealed that the death of a woman living in a Modesto homeless encampment was caused by heavy machinery Caltrans was using to clear the field.

If we’re not doing this work, who will?

In addition, as a business focused on Modesto and its surrounding communities, we offer organizations a place to promote their events and fundraisers at no cost. We celebrate great things residents around us are doing. We sponsor community-wide events such as 20 Under 40. We give readers a voice on our Opinions pages through our letters to the editor. We cover your daughters and sons on the athletic fields.

All of that journalism and coverage comes at a cost.

It starts with wages for the talented and dedicated men and women in our newsroom, all who live in and around Modesto, pay taxes, raise children and frequent the many businesses our readers work for or own.

Our reporters and photographers rely on expensive tools like laptops, cameras, iPhones, high-speed Internet access and software. Public records requests that help shine a light into dark corners are expensive – one recent search cost of over $200, another over $150.

Some say that because we post stories on Facebook – a free site – the story should be free. What we’re doing is offering readers a free photo, a headline and a decision – whether to come to our website, modbee.com, to read the article or watch the video.

I understand that for years newspapers gave away their stories online. Few do today.

Most know our industry is struggling. It’s not that fewer people are reading us, a common but false cry among detractors. We set a Modesto Bee record for page views and video views in 2017. It’s the business model that’s causing widespread – and widely reported – downsizing.

Local news organizations inform, enlighten and offer a place for their communities to share thoughts and ideas on issues important to them. We’re glad people appreciate what we do to the extent that they’re reaching their monthly limits.

I think $7.99 a month for access to our website and our eEdition is a great deal. But, of course, that’s your call.

Some days we’re great. Others we’re good. And every day there is room for improvement, as with any effort human beings make. We don’t profess to be perfect.

We’re grateful to those who support our efforts through a subscription for the newspaper or the digital product.

We’ve been here for our readers for more than 120 years, through much change. We hope to be here for 120 more.

To do so, we need your support.

Brian Clark is the editor of The Modesto Bee. 209 578-2362.