Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Will You Pay for Roanoke Newspaper Online?

My free subscription to the NYTimes (10 stories a month, free) didn't show up this morning and it brought to mind the coming reality that if I'm to read a newspaper or magazine online I'm going to have to pay for it. Will I do that? I'm not sure yet, but I'll have to face the decision soon.

I understand that Roanoke's local daily, to which I have never had a paid subscription, will begin charging for its online product soon. When I left the paper several years ago to "retire" (that's an official term, not a reality), my free subscription was cancelled the day after "retirement." I called the publisher to ask what was up with that and she reminded me that I had been fired by the paper in 1981 and people who were fired didn't get free papers. I reminded her that the paper hired me back when it bought the Blue Ridge Business Journal and I worked there for 10 more years. She said that didn't count. By my reckoning, I'm the only "retired" employee in the paper's (at least recent) history who didn't get a free paper.

My understanding is that current employees have been told they'll have to pay a reduced rate for a subscription if they continue getting the paper. Among the options will be an online subscription.

Anyhow, details aside, I occasionally go to the paper's website to read stories that are interesting and even use them on my blog (two of them just today, if you'll scroll down). So, will I subscribe when that eventuality faces me?

I will say, in defense of the local daily, that its purchase by Berkshire Hathaway, which owns several other Virginia papers, has led to much, much better Virginia coverage because of the sharing of resources. I will also suggest that the cutting of news staff in Roanoke has left a bare-bones crew of some very good, very overworked reporters who simply can't cover it all.

The question, as I will pose it, is not whether I will subscribe, but whether you will. The paper's circulation of its base product has been declining at an alarming rate for several years and it is my understanding that weekday numbers are below 70,000 subscribers for the first time since perhaps the 1950s. Online readership is up, but that will almost certainly take a sharp drop when the paper begins charging.

So, here's the question: Will you pay for an online subscription to the paper when that time comes (likely later this year)?


  1. Depends on the cost, but probably not. I get the "real" paper on Fri, Sat, Sun. I only occasionally read anything online...mostly columnists Dan Casey & Aaron McFarling. It's been a long time since I relied on the paper to provide me with any "news"

  2. This from Chris VanCantfort via e-mail:

    To your question of whether readers will support a Roanoke Times web site. The current publisher and editor are assiduously finishing the job that Meade carried on. The new regime completely redesigned the web site and placed all sorts of new restrictions on the site’s blogs. When the editor alerted readers of the forthcoming changes and solicited input he was deluged with criticisms of the proposed changes by faithful readers . The thousands of comments (and I do not exaggerate, it was in the thousands) were overwhelmingly (>90%) opposed to the web site change. Of course, the publisher, editor, and Warren Buffet never had any intention of listening to the major criticisms of the readers. So they plowed ahead with the web site changes. Readers told them that they would stay away in droves if the changes were instituted. The changes were made and readers kept their promise. The Roanoke Times web site is now a ghost town. Good luck to them trying to sell that to advertisers.

  3. From Michael Miller via 3-mail:

    Nope. I have a paper subscription, but that's only because my wife wants to read it. I never read it at all, and only rarely view stories online. I find the [Christiansburg] News Messenger has better and more comprehensive local coverage by far and national news is available in numerous online venues. I pay little attention to what goes on in Richmond unless it makes national news. I suppose I should be more attentive to Va politics, but I grow tired of seeing the same democratic initiatives shot down year after year.

  4. Not so long ago, I would have answered yes to that question. I live outside the local delivery area (presently Kentucky), so online is the only way to keep up with events in my erstwhile hometown, and I really enjoyed some of the blogs (Weather Journal, Fridge Magnet, Dan Casey, among others). The site's recent redesign, however, has made reading and browsing ridiculously difficult - and darn near impossible on both of my mobile devices - and because I don't, and won't, have a Facebook account, I can't comment on my favorite blogs anymore. So, alas, if goes behind a paywall, that will be the end for me, if I don't give it up for good in frustration before then.