DNR Ducking Behind a Pay Wall

Brent Finnegan -- September 28th, 2009

Unless you have a subscription, get ready to say goodbye to news stories on the DNR website. Saturday the DNR announced their website will be going behind a pay wall. Effective October 1, only subscribers will be able to access their news stories.

According to a story in Saturday’s print edition, on Wednesday or Thursday of this week, the news articles will retreat behind a subscription wall, while the announcements and editorials will remain available to anyone. The PDF-ish e-edition, which they rolled out in December 2007, will be available via email for $5 a month. Stories on their website will be available for $2 a month, or $24 a year.

What does this mean for hburgnews readers? For our part, it means no more links to the DNR so you can read the whole story. In other words, this is a blow to the local link economy, which is what the social web is built on.

There has been no shortage of debate among national media experts over whether pay walls are a good idea or not. In a totally unscientific poll I ran on hbblogs.com, over 70 percent of participants said they were willing to pay “nothing” for news. Only time will tell whether this is a move that saved the paper, a mere failed experiment, or the coup de grâce.

51 Responses to “DNR Ducking Behind a Pay Wall”

  1. Scott Rogers says:

    Wow — this is pretty surprising! I predict their online readership will decline, also reducing the impressions they are able to offer to advertisers. Interesting….

  2. Brooke says:

    I think it will end up biting them in the rear.

  3. Sarah Rose-Silva says:

    Another Byrd newspaper, The Winchester Star, has been doing this for several months. While quite annoying to me as a reader who would like to get my hometown news without giving the Byrds any more money, it must be working for them or they would not be rolling it out here.

  4. Emmy says:

    I agree with Brooke. I wasn’t making them any money because I only buy the Saturday paper for the coupons and recycle the rest. I did occasionally click on the ads on the online version though.

  5. Greg says:

    Now they want me to pay to read their GOP propaganda? No thanks.

  6. I’m a regular reader of Jeff Jarvis’s buzzmachine, so it should be no surprise that I think this is a bad move for the DNR to make. To quote Vivianne Schiller, head of NPR and former head of NYTimes.com, (posted at buzzmachine):

    … people will not in large numbers pay for news content online. It’s almost like there’s mass delusion going on in the industry—They’re saying we really really need it, that we didn’t put up a pay wall 15 years ago, so let’s do it now. In other words, they think that wanting it so badly will automatically actually change the behavior of the audience. The world doesn’t work that way.

    But speaking of stuff I can link to, DNR editor Cort Kirkwood is now posting at the John Birch Society, linking heavily to other websites. Oh, the irony.

  7. Dan says:

    I’ve often wondered how much revenue their website brings them. The design is very confused and barely usable. Plus, yesterday it was trying to infect my computer with a virus. I always thought that if they redesigned the site to a simpler, cleaner, more usable design, they might be able to increase online readership and make some ad money.

    I always liked to browse the local news stories but I wouldn’t pay to read the DNR. The editorial page is a failure. If I wanted to see people calling each other names I would watch cable.

  8. Brooke says:

    Dan said, “If I wanted to see people calling each other names I would watch cable.”

    This. Exactly. Recently I’ve been finding myself reading and commenting on the DNR less and less, for precisely that reason – especially the comments sections. Too little rational discourse and too much finger pointing, spin, name calling and people simply regurgitating what they’ve read or seen on their favorite wing nut site (left and right). As far as I’m concerned, the DNR site going the pay rout will be God’s way of removing the temptation for me to get sucked into the drama that goes on there. LOL

    I don’t doubt some people will go ahead and cough up the dough for the access, but probably only their most loyal readership, and I doubt it will be enough to make it worth while.

  9. DNR?

    What does that stand for; Do not subscribe?

  10. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    While I have rarely (read: never) found the online comments at dnronline to be edifying, they have served to give me a glimpse into a subculture in this town which I would rarely have had access to otherwise.

    At first it seemed sensible to me to pay the $2 to keep tabs on the ideologies of these subgroups. If nothing else, I hoped to transform hopeless diatribes by continuing to model reasonable, respectful discourse.

    Of course I quickly realized it would be a waste of $24. Exposure to the comment threads usually depressed my day, ate up precious time and brought out “righteous” rage in me (I hate blind bigotry). Besides, I can only remember one or two occasions when I successfully redirected a polemic rant (people exhibit very little ability to truly listen to and engage each other).

    Maybe this is subscription is a good thing. The Do Not Read will finally kick it and this town and county can make significant progress towards open-minded public discourse!

  11. linz says:

    Do Not Resuscitate? :)

  12. linz says:

    I will be interested to see the nature of the comments once the only contributors are those with paid subscriptions.

  13. Brooke says:

    The Editorials and Letters to the Editor will still be free:

    “All Web site visitors will have free access to the following:

    ¦ Forum and Saturday’s Op-ed page.

    ¦ Viewpoint and Open Forum columns and letters to the editor.

    ¦ Obituaries, weddings, engagements, and anniversaries.

    ¦ All of our classified and retail advertisements.”

  14. Scott Rogers says:

    I assume RSS feeds for the headlines will also be gone for non-subscribers? Bummer — that was how I largely consumed the newspaper — scrolling through the headlines in Google Reader.

  15. Benjamin says:

    Is it time for an independent non-profit weonly new website to make its move? I think so.

  16. Benjamin says:

    typos fixed: Is it time for an independent non-profit web only news website to make its move? I think so.

  17. Dan says:

    Wow, our editor writes for the John Birch Society? I guess it’s impressive that he has the time to fairly moderate the local public discourse AND contribute to the struggle against the Civil Rights Act and similar societal ills.

  18. cook says:

    I have subscribed to the print edition for years, and as the price climbs each year I pause before writing the check to re-up. Most recently, I justified the purchase on the ground that the newspaper is my reason for walking 2/3 mile (uphill both ways) to pick it up each morning. I guess as a print subscriber I will have access “at no additional charge.” I wouldn’t pay any extra for online access.

  19. MB Green says:

    Dan, how do you know our editor writes for the John Birch Society?

  20. MB Green, see my comment from 9:21.

  21. Obviously this news heralds the End Of Western Civilization As We Know It.

    Regarding Kirkwood and the Birchers, heck, I have known for years that President Eisenhower was a card-carrying comsymp. But, if you want to see some really fun stuff, go check out some of his postings on blogs in the past about how Abu Ghraib was all due to the feminist movement.

  22. MB: Brent posted a link above. He’s had several articles up on the JBS website in the last few weeks; apparently it’s a new thing and separate from his syndicated column called (no kidding) “The Hard Line”. His biography on the JBS magazine (The New American) website has some biographical details I didn’t know about, such as that he was briefly a speechwriter for Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign. An article from last week suggests that the “scandal” of one class in one elementary school in New Jersey singing questionable lyrics about Barack Obama during Black History Month is “yet another reason to shut down government schools.” Wonder if a desire to shut down public education has any play in his newsroom decisions?

  23. JGFitzgerald says:

    It would seem the product they’re selling is the daily news. The cops, courts, councils, and crashes. Below, at length, Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

    “And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, — we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

    Obviously, this doesn’t apply to sports.

  24. I know it’s apples and oranges, but most of us pay for TV now, as in cable. We used to get that for free … far fewer channels, of course.

    And yes, it’s time for non-profit news Web site, but Lordy, who wants to take on that administrative headache?

  25. Emmy says:

    I actually wouldn’t mind paying for news if it were worth paying for. I cannot justify paying for news that is very often inaccurate or something I’ve already seen or heard on WSVA or WHSV several days earlier.

    It needs to be timely, accurate, and while I know that no media is free from bias, I can’t make myself pay for something that makes no attempt to hide their bias.

  26. Renee says:

    There was a big discussion on twitter about this. Here’s what I think overall:

    1) If the paper had high-quality content and timely articles, and therefore built up a big enough circulation, I would hope the advertising income plus remaining print subscriptions would be high enough to pay reporters (like I assume it was before the internet)

    2) Because of ‘web culture’, it is expected that at least some of the content should be free online. To me, this would be press releases, upcoming events and announcements, and articles that don’t involve too much investigation/creativity, like initial reports filed that are basically a listing of facts when something happens. Dedicated readers, those that want more info on local happenings, or want to read the more in-depth creative reporting, could pay a low fee for a premium online version that would contain all of the full articles that are in the print version.

    3) It is unlikely people that subscribe to the print DNR would ‘switch over’ to the web version, so it seems they are targeting web-only readers with these new online subscriptions and just don’t want to “give away” their content “for free” online.
    However, I think:
    -online doesn’t require printing or delivery costs, so it should be cheaper
    -it’s not free, it’s advertiser-supported
    -many people (like me) only read the DNR when it is linked to by people on other sites like twitter and hburgnews, and if they can no longer link to spread the word about an article, readership in general will go down and this will harm the paper rather than help

    I personally think that, though the fees are admittedly low, I will not subscribe to the DNR in print or online. This doesn’t have to do with the reporting – some reporters write good investigative articles (like Heather Bowser’s article about Maria’s deportation that we discussed here in depth) – but I have a problem with the overall quality of the paper and the extreme bias of the editorials. In addition, just the principle of paying for online news when there are ads for that purpose bothers me.

    As a whole, the DNR offends me more often than it betters my life. So no, I won’t pay for it. And now that I won’t be reading linked articles, I won’t even be thinking or talking about the DNR, so they have in effect lost my readership.

  27. Renee says:

    I agree with Dan: “I always thought that if they redesigned the site to a simpler, cleaner, more usable design, they might be able to increase online readership and make some ad money… The editorial page is a failure. If I wanted to see people calling each other names I would watch cable.”

    and like linz, “I will be interested to see the nature of the comments once the only contributors are those with paid subscriptions.”

    I also agree with Emmy’s comment above mine.

  28. What are the legal/ethical implications of buying a subscription to the web edition and then publicly sharing the login information so anyone could use it?

  29. I don’t know, Jeremy, but I doubt that would be covered by fair use ;)

    Would that be like buying a paper and leaving it around for others to read? Or would it be more like putting $.50 in the stand, opening the door, and taking out all of the papers instead of just one?

  30. JGFitzgerald says:

    What you mention about the login is often mentioned in the EULA, the long software agreement that few people ever read. There is a legal issue. On the other hand, the newspaper is one of the things that people buy and then leave lying around. Multiple users (up to three when I was in the gig 15 years ago) are expected for each copy sold. Ethically, John Denver used to tell people to buy just one copy of a book or magazine and share it, while at the same time his record company was suing people for copying his albums. Go figure.

    BTW, The Wall Street Journal is the most successful paywall paper in the US. Google “wall street journal passwords” and see what comes up.

  31. As the Newspaper of Record for the region, the DNR will continue to be subsidized by taxpayer monies as agencies, and local governments post Public Notices at lucrative ad rates. Cort Kirkwood is effectively a Bircher on social welfare. Double the irony.

  32. JGFitzgerald says:

    Just a bit of DNR bashing, and only because it’s funny. I saw a story online with a headline saying “Candidate may be fired if he wins election.” The DNR reported the same story: “Superintendent Denies Bell’s Proposal.” Today’s journalism lesson: Tell the reader what the story is about.

  33. Just to make it clear, I have no intention of buying a subscription nor, if I did, sharing the password. Just wondering what the fallout would be if someone did. As has been pointed out, people will still share physical newspapers.

  34. Renee says:

    Joe, You’re right about the headlines making a big difference – I actually clicked on the first one you mentioned (I think from a Twitter link) and never even heard about the article on the same topic in the DNR.

    Reminds me of something else I saw recently that screamed ‘bias’. When doing a Google News Search on Obama Net Neutrality, most headlines said something like “Net neutrality push gains more Congressional support”, but the FOX News headline was “Does Obama Want to Control the Internet?”.

  35. Jeff says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ll get an online subscription. I like local news. As far as what others appear to object to about the DNR… Never read the editorials since I don’t really care what other people think about issues. (Possibly the fact editorials will remain free indicates the actual value of those editorials?) And don’t feel I’m particularly affected by overall editorial bias since I don’t read the politics or “agenda” articles anyway…

    Plus I like to think I’m smart enough (fooling myself? don’t care) to tell when a story is slanted. And I’m not offended – almost all news has a slant. Whether you’re offended by some measure of bias depends on whether you like the direction of the bias. (I’m guessing few people would complain about a “green” editorial bias?)

    So I’ll be happy to pay to skim the online edition and read the one or two local sports or people stories that catch my eye. Hopefully the DNR will stay in business and continue to provide them.

  36. Emmy says:

    I know all news has a slant. It’s written by human beings and we have no choice but to have an opinion. But, journalism 101 teaches you to write your stories without that opinion. It is possible to do. It may not be possible 100% of the time, but you make the effort.

    Frankly it would make no difference to me which way the bias went, when it is a blatant as that in the DNR then it is too much.

    Personally I think the fact that the editorials will remain free speaks of their lack of value. If everything else is so valuable that you need to pay to read it, then it seems like they’re “giving away” that which has the least value.

  37. Justin says:

    I’ll pony up the subscription fee if they get rid of advertising. Most sites offer that as an incentive to subscribe (or at least lessen the amount of ads).

    So that will probably never happen.

  38. Confused says:

    Would you say the DNR is Republican slanted????

  39. Jeff says:

    Emmy, the opposite might be true. The DNR might think op-ed is are so valuable editorials will draw readers to the site who will keep noticing what they’re missing and eventually pony up for other news. (Go to the movie, buy popcorn.) Hard to imagine anyone feeling that way… but you never know.

  40. Jon says:

    It is now officially pay-walled.

  41. Emmy says:

    I guess that is possible Jeff.

    Jon I still see all the content I could see this morning.

  42. Jason says:

    It’s sad watching all these publishers slowly die. This is pretty much the opposite of what DNR needs to be doing to survive. Somebody help these folks find a new business model and creative new revenue sources.

  43. JGFitzgerald says:

    Worth noting: The idea behind the paywall is not necessarily to make money off the web version. It’s more a matter of taking an alternative away from print subscribers. They don’t, I’d imagine, expect to get a huge new number of young people paying online, but they will have fewer older subscribers quitting the print edition because they can get it free online.

  44. Jeff says:

    JGF, embarrassed I didn’t think of it that way. Good point; the goal probably is to hopefully decrease the rate of subscriber erosion rather than create new revenue streams.

  45. Bell says:

    In case anyone didn’t know, WHSV has added RSS to their “new” website.

  46. WHSV has had RSS for as long as I’ve been visiting. I stopped following WHSV on Twitter because so many of their headlines weren’t local. All sorts of state AP stuff.

    I created my own local RSS feed for TV3. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than getting irrelevant news from all over the country and/or state. Anyone (including TV3) is free to use it:

  47. Emmy says:

    Just saw a TV3 commercial talking about the DNR going to a pay site and mentioning that their site is always free.

  48. Joey Groah says:

    This article by Paul Grahame on “post medium publishing” http://www.paulgraham.com/publishing.html might be of interest.

    “Publishers of all types, from news to music, are unhappy that consumers won’t pay for content anymore. At least, that’s how they see it.

    In fact consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? Why didn’t better content cost more? [1]”

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