Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Home of the Not-So-Free

There has been a lot of buzz this week about the institution of a pay-for-content scheme for newspaper Web sites.

Several unnamed papers have signed with Journalism Online to help them come up with a plan to charge for content. (Also in the news, Journalism Online will be charging a 20 percent commission for new subscribers.)

Most notable this week was the move by Google to throw its hat into the ring. The search engine giant wants to help newspapers craft a micropayment plan. Microsoft, IBM and others are also joining in the effort.

My favorite ironic observation from this new alliance:

“…Google Inc. — a company some newspapers blame for helping dig their financial hole — responded to a request by the Newspaper Association of America for proposals on ways to easily charge for news on the Web.” — Andrew Vanacore, AP Business Writer

We keep coming back to this micropayments thing. Google has proposed a method similar to its Google Checkout arrangement, so readers don’t have to keep logging in and out to purchase content.

Still, I am perplexed regarding how this will work. I wonder how much money I would be willing to pay per story, and I don’t think its much. I would, however, pay for an entire newspaper, which is, admittedly, an antiquated practice in this day and age of search engines, but it’s still how much of the newspaper reading population does it.

I think The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune has the right idea. They are inching into the waters of the pay plan by charging for their most prized content: Vikings coverage.

Now, we journalists don’t like to admit it, but sports coverage is the bread and butter of the newspaper. It is the most-read content, and it attracts the highest paying advertisers. It makes PERFECT sense to test readers’ devotion to and need for newspaper content by charging for select sports pieces.

Other newspapers should follow the Star Tribune’s lead and wade into this pay plan slowly. If you pull the rug out from under the readers, they will be indignant, and it will be a LONG time before their desire to read the newspaper overrides their disdain for change.

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Quieting the Community

Recently, The Bakersfield Californian announced it might shut down its community-contributed Web sites, Bakotopia and Bakersfield Voice.

Having used the Bakersfield Voice as a model in designing and testing community-contributed content on news sites for my Master’s thesis, I can honestly say that this news is unfortunate though not unexpected.

The Bakersfield Voice allows users to directly upload their own pictures, stories, and calendar events right to the Web site. The site also offered social networking opportunities through blogs and chat rooms. With the exception of a general editor, the news staff of The Californian had little to do with the site.

It was a great model, and many managers pointed to these community sites as future endeavors for their own papers. The community appeared to enjoy the interaction, and the site did well to drive traffic to The Californian’s parent site as well.

The reason for yanking the plug on these sites isn’t due to lack of popularity or contributions; it was a lack of vision on the part of The Californian.

Why is it that no one at The Californian thought to ask about the goals of these community sites? Apparently, there was no plan for these sites beyond launching them and crossing fingers for profitability.

I hope that the managers of this site will take the time to assess the goals of the sites and to figure out a business model for them. They are a great community resource, and it would be a shame to see the sites disappear just because no one had the foresight to plan.

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