Monday, August 17, 2009

Commentary: Local Paper Returns to Paid Online Service

Schenectady’s Daily Gazette has told its online readers to find their news elsewhere. After a failed attempt to charge online readers ended in 2007, the Gazette‘s online traffic exploded to 1.5 million page views monthly (according to Managing Editor Judy Patrick). No matter, those in charge at the paper apparently think the future is in print media and charging people for what they can find elsewhere for free.

Just for fun, you can read the story at the still online Albany Times Union which reported that beginning last week “the Schenectady paper will reserve the free section of its Web site for blogs, breaking news and some other features. Only paying subscribers, meanwhile, will have access to expanded online content, including articles that appear in the print edition.”

The new pay plan is showing that those running the Gazette are confused and scared. Just ask Gazette reporter Jason Subik, who reported in January 2008, just after the paper went online for free, and in an article titled “Newspapers’ free online content gives readers what they want, brings needed revenue boost,” that “Today newspapers are finding new ways to compete and rethinking what it means to scoop the competition, as they publish online as well as in print….” – that’s all you get, because I’m not paying for a nearly two year old slanted piece of self-service “news.”

My guess is that the Gazette’s return to the pay model will mean fewer subscribers, fewer links to their web page, and less involvement of the local community in their news. The Gazette will lose its standing as Schenectady’s newspaper of record, at least online.

I suspect that tens of thousands of links to the Gazette will be broken across the internet. Dozens of links from Adirondack Almanack will be broken, and future readers of this site will be pointed to the reports from other places.

Those who rely on the online edition of the paper because their print edition (yesterday’s news anyway) wouldn’t arrive before they head off to work will find other news sources.

Those who place obituaries will think twice if loved ones across the country can’t read the obit online.

But the bottom line is the move to a pay site will do nothing to stem the tide of lost revenue, began with loss of print subscribers that followed the advent of widespread cable television and 24-hour news channels in the early 1990s – ten years before blogs and news aggregators came to the fore.

Newspapers get most of their revenue from advertising – when they produce quality content that people want to read they grow their audience and garner more advertising dollars. You’d think it would be obvious that cutting access to the paper doesn’t grow its audience. As one commenter to the paper put it simply – “That’s hilarious. Good luck with that.”

I expect they will come out of the woodwork now – the “nothing is free” crowd – to tell me how we shouldn’t expect news for free. That idea is laughable.

Radio news is free. Television news is free. Plenty of books, magazines, and newspapers are all free at the library, cafes, and a hundred other places, even the dentist office. They all carry news – local, national, and international.

In this day and age those who make money from subscribers for general news delivery are a dying breed.

Here’s the problem for the Gazette as it relates to just one subject – the Adirondacks. Many of the links to the paper over the years here at the Almanack were related to the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, which has been based (in part at least) in Niskayuna, just outside Schenectady. Now that we can no longer link to the Gazette, we’ll have to go here, or here. That’s what good online journals do best – they find the news at its source, not filtered through the biases of local reporters, editors, and publishers.

Soon enough, most municipalities in America will have at least two online writers reporting on what happens with their local politics from differing perspectives. Specific subjects, like the Supreme Court, New York Politics, and the Adirondacks, already have active online journals that cover their areas, often more thoroughly, or more widely, or with a more independent mind, then any local paper ever could or will.

When that trend – individual independent citizens reporting on their own from all walks of life – is finally entrenched, we’ll look back and laugh at how naive people were to think that it was “buy a newspaper, or don’t get news.”

Some think that site’s like the Adirodnack Almanack rely on free local news online, but they’re off the mark. We get our news just like everyone else in the media does – through investigative legwork, media releases, and research. We curate what’s happening in the Adirondacks and show people where to find it. Rarely does that require a local newspaper, which, after all, the Almanack is not.

I’m sorry to see the Gazette go – but go it will. The print newspaper era is waning, the monopoly of the old media is nearly over. As papers like the Gazette leave the online world – and make no mistake, that is what they are doing – others will take their place.

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff

Stories written under the Almanack's Editorial Staff byline are drawn from press releases and other notices.

To have your news noticed here at the Almanack contact our Editor John Warren at adkalmanack@gmail.com.


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