Monday, November 3, 2014

Local Daily to Charge for Online; Will It Work?

The publisher of Roanoke's daily newspaper, Terry Jamerson, puts it succinctly and correctly: “Giving away our content in the digital world can no longer be sustained if we want to continue to produce the kind of journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives every day.” (Story here.)

That is the reality of the newspaper business in November, 2014. The paper has given away its online content since that "content" was established and now it is following the trend of charging for its product, which isn't exactly a radical departure from the national business model.

The Times, like bigger papers in the country--and some smaller ones--will give you 25 articles/editorials a month before charging. If you subscribe fully (not just a weekender), you'll get the online stories at no extra charge. Ads, obits and community calendars will remain available at no charge.

Most of us who have been in the business of print media know that the future must contain little or no real print because it is simply too expensive. Printing and mailing are the biggest expenses for many publications and those who go strictly digital save enormous amounts of money, a good bit of which can go back into making the product better by hiring reporters. I'm not sure it's working that way yet, but in a better world ...

Many of us have complained loudly and consistently that the quality of the journalism in the daily paper has declined significantly in recent years--especially under the publishing hand of Debbie Meade--and I see little sign of a change in that. The Times has some excellent reporters and produces some quality work. It also produces a mountain of "community journalism," or, in the vernacular, "bullshit."

Someone online posed the question--I hope rhetorically--of whether the paper would begin charging to submit community news. Now, that would be quite the profit center and quite the counter to traditional journalism. Already, the paper charges to print obits and weddings, a traditional news staple for papers when people expected to see their name in the paper three times during their lives: birth, marriage, death. Community news, at this moment, helps justify the small zoned editions of the paper which, theoretically, can be quite profitable, since they cost little to produce.

Remember: The Times does not publish in a vacuum without competition. The TV stations will continue to produce cost-free (and value free) "content" and so will the niche publications. Facebook and Twitter will offer up some of the charged content second hand, so it will be available. That is the reality of the market. We'll see how it works.

Still, the future of journalism--and not just publishing newspapers--will be in the digital format if there is to be a future. The Times' experiment should help establish the reality of the future of newspapers and newspaper journalism.

1 comment:

  1. Dan, I am a fan of yours, but I don't understand your slam of Debbie Meade. She may not have been the best manager of people, but she didn't create this media revolution. And subscription to digital content will be the only way to survival for most in the future.