(Evidently popular Dickinson County News file photo by Seth Boyes)
I got to feeling a bit like the little, red hen this week. I harvested the wheat, I ground the flour, I rolled the dough and I baked the bread, when I covered the Iowa Great Lakes Rotary's inaugural Boji Brewfest back in 2017. Come last week, I found not one but four different websites using one of my photos from that year to promote the Brewfest on their events calendars and the like. Now, initially, I was pretty steamed about the whole thing. After all, I baked the bread and now the other barnyard characters seemed to be taking a slice without putting in the work or even asking permission.
Like I said, I was pretty miffed about it all, but three out of the four websites are nonprofits, and they have all said they'll address the issue in one way or another at this point. Plus, the brewfest is a good cause — funds go to upkeep of Shelby's Playground in Elinor Bedell State Park. So, rather than stew over a photo from two years ago, it's more productive to turn this into a learning experience for the community.
You've probably heard it said certain people think food just comes from the grocery store, passing over the farmer's efforts. Well, as it turns out, certain people sometimes think news just comes from the internet, passing over the local reporter's efforts. Case in point, we've recently heard from some in the public who only want their local news for free. We've specifically been told our work isn't worth the purchase because it's just, "stories I can find elsewhere online."
I'll greatly disagree with that, as there have been numerous stories which can't be found anywhere else. But, in the case of the Boji Brewfest, some of that stuff that's available elsewhere online is still our staff's work — and by our staff I mean me. I covered it — the little, red hen. I put in the time to promote the event when it was new. I called the organizers at Rotary — I harvested the grain. I called the two local breweries who were participating — I threshed the wheat. I conducted the interviews — I ground the flour. I took photos — I rolled the dough. I wrote the story — I baked the bread. And all that work costs time, energy and materials, but some in the community don't feel the paper should be paid for that investment in the Lakes Area.
And we didn't stop there. Our graphic designer Nina Sorenson dressed my scrumptious story up as an eye-catching, full-page feature, so it would get every reader's attention and help spread the word. Our editor Russ Mitchell made sure the layout afforded our hard work full color on the front page of the section.
(Photo of archived papers on his own cubical floor by Seth Boyes)
But we still didn't stop there. Even after my article was in print, I actually went to that first Boji Brewfest to take more photos, because we wanted better ones for when the brewfest came around the next year. Last year, our Sports Editor Matt Heinrichs took photos at brewfest, and he plans to do it again this year.
We've been there for the community. But after all that work, some are still convinced locally produced news and photos just manifest themselves on a webpage — that the hamburger just suddenly appears on the grocery shelf — that they can just find the same stuff elsewhere online for free. The fact that a single photo from the DCN's archives appeared on multiple websites should show us all just how much that free stuff relies on the very reporters the community isn't always so keen to support. What's more, if snatching that photo was so key in promoting attendance at a local fundraiser, that should tell us all how critical a local newspaper's work is to any community's success.
So don't go thinking free content is actually free. It comes at the cost of our community. In the long run, chasing scraps of free online news instead of supporting the people whose work permeates our hometown will leave us and our neighbors high and dry. Don't be the one who refuses to help bake the bread yet demands a slice of the photo page when it's aroma reaches your nostrils. Support your local journalists and you'll be supporting your community.
They're both well worth it.