Why buy the newspaper?

Besides, it’s free online and I pay for print!

Let’s think about this situation. I, and I am confident that you, can’t imagine relying on volunteers to arise in the middle of the night to report on a tragic fire, to leave a family holiday gathering to report on and assist in the recovery of an accident victim, to attend evening municipal or school proceedings, or to cover the action at the local sports events with plenty of photos for Grandma and Grandpa. Such volunteers would need to make sure the coverage was fair and accurate, and would need to provide context and follow up.

And I, and I am confident that you, can’t imagine a thriving democracy and vital community without reliable trusted reporting on all that citizens care about — societal issues, politics, governance, special events, human interest and sports.

Somebody must be trained and paid to accomplish this, and that is the professional journalist. But who is going to pay such a person?

Such is the dilemma facing every news organization in the world. Print advertising has diminished dramatically, online advertising does not replace this lost revenue and readers consume news for free online. Ken Doctor, author of the newly published Newsonomics, reports that the number of professional journalists has decreased by 20 percent in the past three years alone. Across the country, newspapers are declaring bankruptcy and closing their doors.

While we don’t agree with those who say “I’ve already read it online,” the perception is accurate. And as they say, perception is everything.

We know that the content of the newspaper has to change. On Monday, Feb. 1, reports of three tragic accidents established a new record at knox.villagesoup.com. That day we recorded 93,000 page views as compared with 61,000 the previous Monday, and 32,000 page views the same Monday a year earlier. Waiting to read the weekly paper to learn what happened, where it occurred and who was involved is no longer the norm.

But newspapers have never subsisted solely on providing this time-sensitive information. They have always contained information that is more reflective and digestive. Readers never see everything we post online and a browse through the paper always yields news and stories one didn’t see online.

We believe newspapers, with adjustments, will exist for the foreseeable future. They serve us when we wish to reflect, and when we choose to move out of the fast lane, slow down a bit and collect our thoughts. You may in the future read them from a digital device such as a Kindle or iPad, but the format will survive.

So, today, we are taking another step toward distinguishing our newspapers as must reads every week just as our Web sites have become must visits every day and for some, every hour. We are introducing SoupSelect, gathering familiar contributors and adding new contributors to build a rich collection of commentary, columns, features, analysis, facts and figures, dispatches, and prose and poetry.

As you browse through the papers you will see stories with the SoupSelect logo. These stories are written by individuals who are passionate about community life and the role of informed citizenry in a democracy. Four names many of you will recognize are:

Tom Putnam, a Rockport resident and community activist. Tom will provide his take on matters of foreign policy.

John Bird, Rockland native and Spruce Head resident, who will offer in-depth views of community builders.

Wick Skinner, St. George resident and former Harvard Business School dean, who will share his thoughts on our nation’s industry, exports and imports.

Marilyn Moss Rockefeller, a Camden resident, successful entrepreneur and frequent traveler, who will offer dispatches from her travels and passions.

These writers, along with our many other valued columnists and contributors, will appear online in a new SoupSelect section.

SoupSelect stories will appear in print first for loyal newspaper subscribers and weekly newsstand purchasers. Newspaper subscribers and non-paper-subscribers who join as iMembers can access these stories by clicking on the SoupSelect link at the top of the page at knox.villagesoup.com and waldo.villagesoup.com.

Despite national trends and the likelihood that our aggressive online actions have accelerated your questioning the need for a newspaper, we remain inspired. We are confident our approach and our continued changes will ensure our survival into the future. VillageSoup is mentioned in a white paper prepared by the fifth largest marketing services company in the world as one of the new aggregators of locally relevant information. Our first VillageSoup Common licensee launched in Wareham, Mass., on Jan. 21.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss in the comments section below your thoughts on these matters. If you would like to become a SoupSelect contributor or suggest other thoughtful writers to us, please contact me at richard@villagesoup.com.