The Business Of Blogging

Brent Finnegan -- January 29th, 2010

Mayor Kai Degner writes about the connection (or disconnection) between the Daily News-Record’s pay wall, and the local business economy:

. . . business leaders from outside the area can’t read about or find economic development news [on the DNR’s website] because the news stories don’t show up in search engine results (Google won’t show DNRonline.com pages because users can’t read them) . . . The opportunity lost is for people in this industry to get our region on their radar . . . we have to change this – and that means business leaders put more energy into creating content for the web. We are behind the curve. (read the full entry)

35 Responses to “The Business Of Blogging”

  1. Deb SF says:

    I’m not sure the paywall itself much of an issue, as the DNR has not had enough resources to do justice to the economic development in the region even when it’s content was free.

    What’s the biggest barrier to getting on the web for a business enterprise? The expense of setting up a page? Maintaining it? Developing new content? Security/safety (along the lines of the experience of the DNR) ?

  2. Kai says:

    I think the biggest barrier is lack of appreciation for the value in doing it.

  3. Allen says:

    I got some sort of Spyware/Trojan warning after I visited the DNR page yesterday. My antivirus program stopped some sort of attack, but another malicious program still managed to totally screw up my computer. That’s the 3rd time I’ve had trojan issues with the DNR in the past few months. There’s no way I’ll ever pay to read any of their content if they can’t maintain their web page securely.

  4. Spencer says:

    There have been a few stories in the DNR of late that I have wanted to read online. Not for their trademark journalistic prowess, mind you, but rather to be able to read the enlightened comments that our fellow denizens of Rocktown love to post.

    That being said, I nervously input my debit card information in order to plunk down $2 for a 30-day web subscription. Within a few hours, I had a call from a DNR staffer telling me that my card did not go through; apparently, they have to manually input your credit/debit card number into their terminal at the office.

    I asked her to read back my card number as she had copied it down, and caught a mistake in one of the digits. Upon double checking, we determined that I had indeed entered it correctly on the site. After about 10 seconds of thought, I told her to cancel the transaction, as I was no longer interested in the prospect of the DNR holding onto my credit card number.

    Sure, it was a small clerical error; could’ve happened to anyone, but do you really want your financial information passing through another (unnecessary) set of hands at an organization that is so woefully inept at basic IT security? I know that I sure don’t.

    I think Mayor Degner’s commentary in this piece is excellent. Essentially, the DNR has chosen to alienate fellow businesses and members of the community.

    If someone up there takes one thing away from my comment, please at least attempt to earn back the trust of security conscious readers.

    Keep up the good work, Mayor.

  5. Scott Rogers says:

    I have always considered the Shenandoah Valley Partnership to be a pretty good source of local business and economic news.

    That said, they REALLY need an RSS feed!

  6. Deb SF says:

    Lack of appreciation may indeed be an issue, with uncertain returns on what can be a significant investment of time and money. Creating content for the web isn’t free and during a serious economic downturn, where do the resources come to invest in a web presence? Some choices are simple; e.g., a restaurant that doesn’t have at least a simple online presence to publicize menus is at best naive. But what about others? A poor website, badly maintained (and susceptible to attacks by malware), can be worse than no website at all.

  7. Dany Fleming says:

    Regardless of the DNR’s pay wall plans, it shouldn’t be expected to be the primary, or even an effective, promoter of economic development for this area. That responsibility rests with the business community….in collaboration with the local econ. development agencies.

    All good HR folks know that to get the best employees you go and recruit them – don’t expect them to fall into your lap. This is even more the case with economic development – because, there is no effective economic development “classifieds.

    Most mid-sized cities and all big cities have their own “executive leadership” non-profit partnerships putting their own time and resources into marketing their area. They know that the collective bottom-line is good for the individual bottom-line. The good ones create business opportunities in their area.

    It seems like the Shenandoah Valley Partnership is that organization here. The content of their website seems reasonably good. That it doesn’t rank high in a Google search is a bad sign, though. That certainly defeats the purpose and might show that someone’s not keeping their eye on how the site’s working. It should be targeting and pushing their info out.

    The Chamber’s site seems good, but is exclusively about the “how” of setting-up a business and not the “why.” Generally, I’ve never known Chambers to be effective economic development promoters, anyway – I don’t think they see it as their role. The national Chamber is certainly just a self-serving group.

    The short-life/revolving door of business executives has created a development problem for many big cities. The business leaders who once lived in an area long-enough to care about and promote it’s growth are fewer and fewer. Those cities are having to find new ways to recruit development.

    That revolving door doesn’t seem to be the case around here (correct me if I’m wrong). So, it seems that it’s a prime opportunity for business leaders to jump in and do exactly what Kai is suggesting. (though, I admit don’t know really what is and isn’t happening along those lines.)

    The economic climate of the Valley is strong and should be near the top of any future economic development list. However, it won’t happen by accident. It needs a targeted marketing and recruiting effort – led and resourced by area business leaders. They’ll find t’s worth their investment.

  8. Renee says:

    3 comments on the DNR:

    1) So now I know they treat credit card numbers the same way they treat passwords – humans can view them instead of the numbers/passwords being encrypted and only processed by the computer. (If you call in, you can retrieve your password by having them look it up.) In the computer world, these are no-nos for security, so only use the system if you fully trust every person that works at the newspaper and has access to these databases.

    2) I really like the way the New York Times is going to handle their pay wall. You get a few free reads, then once you’ve clicked on a certain number of articles, you have to log into a paid account. This allows infrequent readers to still get a few articles without paying, and as far as I know, still allows search engines to index the articles. It also allows frequent readers to share links with friends and draw new readers to the paper. Smart.

    3) I agree about the viruses – they claim some flags were false-positives by the anti-virus software, but many people have reported being infected by trojans on more than one occasion and that is just unacceptable, especially for a website that charges for access.

    I also agree with Kai’s sentiment that our community needs to blog about its successes because most people doing research about an area these days will get their information online. I think free & open news is also important, which is why I try to help with hburgnews when I can! :)

  9. Deb SF says:

    Renne, definitely agree with your comments about the NYT model, though Clay Shirkey has some pretty good arguments why small payments won’t work for online journalists. http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/why-small-payments-wont-save-publishers/

  10. Dany Fleming says:

    I agree, good points Renee. The DNR continues to make itself an easy target for criticism in any number of ways. Piling on is pretty easy. However, the DNR is really not Kai’s point

    If we need to rely on the DNR as a significant or reliable source of information on economic development, then those promotion efforts are in real trouble. Though I have many of the same DNR critiques as other folks here, I also would not expect them to take up the call for any economic development marketing strategy. Good or bad, they have their own bottom-line decisions to make.

    The point is that promoting economic development opportunities needs its own effective champion with that as its mission. Attracting business investment is incredibly competitive. Sitting and waiting for the rush of investment or not having a strong outreach effort is not a winning plan.

    Business leaders, however, have both the knowledge and skills to make this effort work. They certainly become a prime beneficiary with new and increased investments. I also believe it’s their corporate responsibility and contract with the community. It’s the responsibility that comes when a community develops infrastructure, makes plans and provides other support efforts (like university research and community college programs for their workers, low taxes and stable housing markets for their employees, good schools for their children, etc.).

    The business/community relationship works well in a mutually supportive way. However, to be sustainable, businesses need to ensure business diversity and sound investment. The Valley has been good at that diversity, but shouldn’t take it for granted.

    If you want to see what happens when that effort fails, just look at any rust-belt area. The steel mills shut down and there was nothing to fall back on or build upon.

  11. Renee says:

    Deb, I don’t think the NYT is using micropayments. I think it’s a few articles for free, then you subscribe monthly. You don’t have to pay for individual articles, as far as I know. If the few-for-free-per-month-or-subscribe is not the model they’re using, that’s the model I am saying is a good idea!

    Dany, I know Kai’s point wasn’t just about the newspaper, but I needed to vent about it. :)
    Good points about business diversity being a requirement for an area’s sustainability and the business-community relationship.

  12. Deb SF says:

    Renne, thanks.. I’d read somewhere that the model was metered, and just assumed it was micropayment centered. So it’s apparently a flat subscribers free after readers hitting the limit, with some neat work-arounds for reading by referral from alternative sites. I’ve become so disenchanted with the Post; anything that helps preserved the NYT as the national paper of record is worth a try.

    I’d heard that the DNR was doing OK revenue-wise, and the pay-wall should continue to steady cash flow; more worrying is that they’ve lost a couple of really good reporters from the news dept over the last weeks- Jenny Jones moving to NOVA and Heather Bowser moving to features.

  13. Will says:

    The Byrd family is motivated by one (maybe two) things: money and extreme conservative politics. The only viable way to get their attention is to mess with one of those two things. Otherwise, they could care less about the larger community or helping it in any fashion…I speak from experiece, trust me!

  14. If the local newspaper-of-record can not function as an open source of information about the local economy and business activity then it should cease to be subsidized by taxpayer dollars (public notices) and allowed to die or be acquired.

    It is time to quit making excuses for the DNR management. Take the public monies away, and use the funds to stand up a regional news news forum paid in part by public notice fees. Business, gov’t agencies, trade associations would all provide their news releases for publication to the web. On-line advertising would pay for the rest.

  15. Changing who can receive public notice money would require a major overhaul of § 8.01-324 of the state code.

    For example, recipients must “have a bona fide list of paying subscribers.” That law needs to be changed for several reasons.

    It was written long before citizens used the internet to get information. Times have changed. Newspapers are shrinking, and becoming less relevant.

    Also, the “bona fide list of paying subscribers” requirement effectively excludes any news organization that doesn’t charge readers for content.

    At some point, legislators had to stop writing laws for horse-drawn carriages, and start writing laws for automobiles. That’s what needs to happen here. But before that can happen, there needs to be a real national broadband initiative to get high speed internet to Americans living in rural areas (similar to the Rural Electrification Act).

  16. Jason, I looked, but couldn’t find the amount of money the DNR gets from taxpayers, but it’s a matter of public record (the website I found it on before is no longer functioning the way it used to). I’ve seen the data before, and the dollar amount was at least five digits. Tens of thousands, if I recall correctly.

  17. Maybe you got your message out, maybe you didn’t. Maybe the DNR has a fraction of the subscribers they claim to have.

    The DNR lists me as a subscriber because they put that lame-ass “Rocktown” in my mailbox without asking me. They will tell you that I received your public notice. It goes straight to the recycling bin (or firebox), unread.

    Now offer the public and agencies a searchable, archived database of local notices and news, give it an RSS link, give posters an easy hyperlink plug-in to post, take ads for the sidebar and you have a new media model…unencumbered by the expense of turning trees into sheets of paper, printing, and driving your product to your customers.

  18. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    The DNR lists its circulation as 29,635 on the Virginia Press Association website. Since there were 13,113 households in Harrisonburg and 25,355 household in Rockingham County as of the 2000 census, do you suppose that all 29,635 papers are sent to paying subscribers and people who buy it in gas stations?

    A newspaper editor who complains about public money being used to pay for libraries and schools shouldn’t accept government money for printing legal notices and advertisements. Conversely, local governments should think twice before handing over tax money to a paper that thinks we “suffer” a high rate of foreign born people and that “one of the unwelcome things these foreigners bring with them is crime” (source) and that “Islam is not a religion but rather a totalitarian political ideology” (source), among other inflammatory official opinions of the paper.

    Besides mandatory legal notices, ads from local and state agencies (and especially taxpayer-funded educational institutions like JMU and BRCC) make up a large part of the DNR’s revenue stream.

  19. Not because they don’t share my opinion, but because they proclaim (and foment) hatred against a large number of taxpayers in this community AND the editor has ideological opposition to tax money being used for…well, just about anything. So let’s ease his conscience, eh?

    If the DNR declared itself aligned with Al Qaeda, the KKK, neo-Nazis, or the Black Panthers, would you feel comfortable with it being supported largely by taxpayer money? If not, where’s the line in your mind?

  20. Jason, as Brent mentioned the site to find the numbers is down, but you can read the results of a previous search in my comments on an old thread.

    And yes, I have talked to several folks about how inappropriate it is for tax money to go to the DNR, especially when it is discretionary spending and not state-mandated spending. At the state level, Dels. Landes and Bell are trying to do something about it but meeting resistance from the newspaper lobby (who also tend not to publish stories about the largesse they receive because of antiquated state laws). The money the DNR makes from state and local agencies, in addition to legal notices, puts tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets every year.

  21. Lowell Fulk says:

    Not having a good day, eh Jason?

    I think Bubby already answered your last question:
    “Now offer the public and agencies a searchable, archived database of local notices and news, give it an RSS link, give posters an easy hyperlink plug-in to post, take ads for the sidebar and you have a new media model…unencumbered by the expense of turning trees into sheets of paper, printing, and driving your product to your customers.”

    Although, I’m kind of old school and enjoy a newspaper now and then. The “tangible” nature of something to touch and hold…

    But in reality, a site to visit for government news and announcements is infinitely better because of specificity of content, than is looking for a notice or an advertisement which is two inches square in a sea of other such creations on a page which is 1.5 ft wide by 2.5 ft high in 10 point font…

  22. Lowell Fulk says:

    Times, they are a changin’ Jason. Catch up, or get left behind.

    If paper communication isn’t how the majority find their information, the the free market will evolve into something else…

    This is what is taking place. What some other contributors to this discussion are suggesting, is that government subsidy, by way of required public notices, are actually artificially keeping alive a patient in dire danger of being un-savable.

    Just like some folks say that if you want to live in America, you need to learn the language, they might just as well say that if you want to live in America, you need to keep up with the communication which is used by America…

    Increasingly, that communication is not via paper…

  23. Kai says:

    I’m emailing Gov. McDonnell’s scheduler to invite the administration to attend the Feb 18 Harrisonburg Local Business Summit. Would love to link to yesterday’s DNR article about the event, but can’t.

  24. seth says:

    in regards to the proposed legislation from delegates landes and bell, i’d just like to say
    “A state budget that is in meltdown. Thousands of school budgets in jeopardy. Public Safety budgets in limbo. A broken transportation system and no plan to fix it….”

    obviously i kid, but i am curious as to why this would strike folks as a legislative priority (when other issues of late with much more tangible negative effects in the face of inaction don’t).

    regarding the death of newspapers, the writing is obviously on the wall. however, i think that jason makes a good point when he says that there’s a significant portion of our population that still uses them as a primary source of information. i could be way off base, but i’m not sure that either delegate landes or bell would advocate that those folks should either ‘catch up, or get left behind.’

    in terms of whether or not tax moneys are propping up the dnr, one side can claim that they do while the other side says they don’t all day long (with neither getting any closer to making an informed assessment). it seems to me that in order to make such a claim, it’s necessary to know things like what percentage of total ad revenues they constitute, as well as how that fits into the pie that is the dnr’s operating budget.

  25. There are ‘Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

    What local news organization has investigated why the Rockingham County BOS facilitated massive growth without assuring sufficient funding for roads and infrastructure? …Or exposed our State legislator’s failure – simultaneously opposing road funding while Federal Stimulus money pays for paving the way to our long-planned regional hospital?

    So seth, while our school districts, Universities, transportation and public safety officials face massive funding shortages, Senator Obenshain can play with VDOT audit gimmicks and selling liquor stores to raise chump change…because he knows the local media will not expose him. And what, exactly, has Matt Lohr done for the district in his six years in Richmond?

  26. seth says:

    sorry bubby,

    i didn’t mean to (and i’m not quite sure how i’m perceived to have) advocate for lohr, obenshain, or anyone else. my thoughts were actually more directed towards those who seem happy to take shots at someone who’s making reasonable points while failing to provide the information necessary to substantiate their views.

    i am glad that you recognized your quote though!

  27. Lowell Fulk says:

    “…i am curious as to why this would strike folks as a legislative priority (when other issues of late with much more tangible negative effects in the face of inaction don’t).”

    Please Seth, so I can better understand what you hold to be important priorities, let me know what yours are?

  28. seth says:

    i think this discussion would be more appropriate in a thread concerning legislative priorities. that being said, i’d go along with you guys and say that education and transportation should certainly head up the list. what i’d try to avoid is allowing my ideology to dictate when i play the ‘there are too many important issues for us to be wasting time on this’ card. it seems particularly disingenuous when it appears that people are more concerned with the ads in the dnr than they are with placing our state laws regarding child protection in line with the majority of the rest of the country.

  29. Dany Fleming says:

    The DNR is clearly using a formula of giving enough local personal interest stories and yard sale announcements to keep it viable enough to spew its divisive, and usually unsubstantiated, politics. It has long abandoned any notion of being an investigative, factual or balancing media source.

    Hillbilly Sheikh, that higher journalistic and democratic ideal doesn’t seem to hold water at the DNR. Of course, this is the same type of local paper-chain political strategy taking place all over the South.

    It seems to me that there’s a good case to make that the DNR should no longer be the de facto source for posting required public notices. It may not be the best or even a good source any longer. I’d love to hear from folks how those posting decisions could be reviewed and challenged. However, like the DNR opinions or not, it’s not a good idea to have a quid pro quo requirement of getting public notices in exchange for limiting the paper’s views.

    The DNR does have its ace-in-the-hold as the main source for apolitical local stories and announcements. When I lived out of the area, I checked the online DNR weddings/obits/sports/etc. daily. That’s a big draw and what keeps advertisers coming back.

    So, finding an alternative for local news and announcements seems key. Frankly, the tremendous job, and service, that Brent is doing here at hburgnews makes me think this could be the spot….with the accompanying needed support.

    How viable is the idea of an alternative source for local news, announcements and public postings?

    (BTW, this is a much more compelling discussion than economic development marketing)

  30. Renee says:

    I agree with Brent about it being time to modernize the laws.

    I only skimmed this thread so far, but from what Jason’t saying – the government has to pay to post public notices? Even with the taxpayer subsidies?

  31. Dany Fleming says:

    Seth – as Bubby Hussein points out, a valid “fourth estate” certainly belongs at the top of that list.

  32. In reference to local governments placing notices in newspapers, the State Code of Virginia requires these placements for a number of different actions including but not limited to public hearings for the budget, zoning and subdivision changes, various ordinance amendments, etc., and certain other types of action. The code expressly refers to newspapers having general circulation in the county or city in which the action is being taken. For this to change the state legislature would have to amend current law.

    Until such time as a change is made the city will continue to abide by these requirements. For a broader idea of what kinds of actions require notice, doing a search on the word “newspaper” in the State Code will show most, if not all, of these instances. The State Code of Virginia can be found online here: http://leg1.state.va.us/000/src.htm

    If you have any questions about this please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at miriamd@harrisonburgva.gov or by phone at 540-432-7701.

  33. Dany Fleming says:

    Thanks for taking the time to provide feedback, Miriam. …and thanks for the very poignant example of how government officials can share information and advance public understanding. A good example of the power of an openly accessible public media platform. This is the greater contribution to democracy that the DNR seems to be missing in its pandering to its political stances.

  34. Renee says:

    Just wanted to say I think it’s great we can have good civil discourse on these issues here on hburgnews, and thank Kai for starting this interesting conversation on his blog!

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