These are tough times for newspapers as they see print subscriptions and ad revenue decline.

Most are trying to establish a profitable online presence, but it is widely accepted that newspapers won’t reap the same levels of advertising profits they made before the Internet came into existence. So, they are consolidating their operations, reducing staff, outsourcing as much work as possible, and encouraging readers to buy online subscriptions, for as little as $10 a month.

But many people aren’t paying because they click onto a “free” google news roundup for the latest headlines. I do it, too: every morning, I check google’s news page, perhaps clicking on a few headlines for the full stories. Then, since I cover LGBTQ news in an opinion blog on my paper’s site (I don’t get paid for doing it), I search various words to catch up on latest developments. None of which costs me anything, excluding the cost of my Internet service.

A free ride, yes? Question is, for how much longer?

Google news feeds are being fed largely by newspapers, and if those papers go bankrupt, the news parts of google will implode or at best have very limited sources. Even the wire services and TV stations depend on newspapers for articles and leads.

Indeed, mainstream newspapers are the heart of the news business, and the soul of the community. Think of what cities like New York, Los Angeles and Montreal would be like without newspapers; think of what the politicians would get away with without the vigilant reporting of newspapers.

Newspapers make myriad contributions to the betterment of society and the world at large, and have never asked much from their readers in return. The daily print edition of most papers costs readers about the same price as a chocolate bar; the daily cost for a monthly subscription to a newspaper online less than 50 cents.

So, to answer my question about how much longer the free ride for readers will continue: Not much longer.

Newspapers will continue to exist, and readers will pay for them one way or the other. Perhaps google will start charging for access to its news feeds, and then pass that money onto contributing papers. Or perhaps the Internet providers will tack on an extra dollar or two to your monthly bill if you access news sites, and they will pass the money onto the papers. Or a combination of the two.

Newspapers are an integral part of western society, and are going through a difficult transition period now — a time when readers need to show their support.

My question to you: Are you subscribing to a mainstream paper in your community, either the print edition or online?

— Jillian