We're changing our Web site
I love overhearing people talk about a story they’ve read in The Gazette.
It happens a lot in the morning as I head into work, stopping along the way to buy coffee, work out at the Y or pick up dry cleaning. I don’t care if they loved the story or hated it. I’m just happy that the previous day’s work has come to its rightful conclusion.
Such was the case one morning this past week. I was at the gym and the conversation to my right was about an article in that morning’s Gazette.
The talk put a little spring in my workout, until one of the men said: “I’ll have to go online and read it. I don’t get The Gazette.” As the managing editor of The Gazette, that’s not what I want to hear. But the timing of the comment, given the struggle newspapers all over the country are facing, was ironic.
Beginning Aug. 3, we’re changing how our Web site functions, offering unlimited access to subscribers but restricting access to those who aren’t. We launched our free online Web site in December 2007, much later than most newspapers around the country.
Since then, our newsroom has come to appreciate how the Web site, with its vast digital capabilities, can add to what we do as journalists. Frankly, while most of us in the newsroom were anxious to aggressively join the online competition, people on the business side of our operation didn’t much like the idea of giving our product away for free. It didn’t make sense, especially because the outlook for online advertising revenue was, at that point, far more a hope than money in the bank.
Our new Web site made much of our content — our articles, photographs, columns and reviews — available for free. Since then, our Web site has developed and grown in popularity, with thousands of visitors reading our stories and blogs.
We’re proud of our Web site, which reflects what we are: a small, family-owned newspaper serving the Capital Region. With that in mind, we’ve decided to change the structure of our Web site in a way that offers more information to the people who pay for our paper — our subscribers — but less information to those people who do not.
The change, effective Monday, Aug. 3, will give subscribers unlimited Web access to our new and expanded Web content, as well as to our online electronic replica of the day’s paper. Together, the two versions provide a comprehensive view of the news we cover.
Customers, who now pay $4 a week for home delivery, will continue to pay $4 a week via a special combination package: $3.99 for the print subscription and a penny more for our online subscription. Online-only subscriptions will also be available, at $2.95 a week.
Non-paying visitors will still have access to some of our Web site. They will, for example, be able to read our blogs, check TV schedules, look at our photo galleries and monitor breaking news. They will not, however, be able to read the full text of our local stories, reviews, obituaries and columns or post comments on stories.
We hope that the many people who have become accustomed to reading our stories for free have appreciated our hospitality and understand our decision, which still welcomes them to visit but no longer gives them the same access to content that paying customers have.
That is likely wishful thinking, particularly at a time when so many people have come to expect that the Web is a world where news should be free. The debate that comes with the exchange of ideas is an essential part of our society. We think the stories we write are, in our own small way, an important part of the debates here in our backyard.
At the same time, our news content has a value that we need to protect in order to safeguard our business and, ultimately, our ability to do what we do.
Reporters, whose focus has long been on the news — not the business — of journalism, love having their stories read by as many people as possible. They usually haven’t worried much about whether the reader had the paper delivered to his doorstep each morning, bought it at the corner store or read it online.
They care a lot more nowadays, in part because our newspaper — like so many others around the world — is dealing with declining circulation and advertising revenues. In the past year, we have seen far too many longtime people in our industry laid off, a reality that has given us all a better understanding of the business dynamics of our industry.
Now, more than ever, we understand that there has to be an effective business model in place to enable us to keep doing what we in the newsroom do. We can’t blame the Internet for all the industry’s struggles.
As the recession of the past year has slowed our economy, our customers — our subscribers and our advertisers — have reduced spending in ways that directly affect us. Newspapers around the world, many with staggering financial challenges, are facing the same pressures. Some have closed. Some have sought the protection of bankruptcy courts. Nearly all are searching for ways to generate online revenue.
For us, the decision became fairly simple. The news we produce has value and we want to protect it in a way that best serves our loyal subscribers and our business.
The decision will frustrate, annoy and perhaps anger non-subscribers. But the decision, I think, affirms the value of our work to our communities. Our Web site is an important part of our newspaper. Reporters who once left the office with just a notebook and pen are now grabbing videocameras as well. We’re all thinking about different ways of providing information, from complex databases to interactive calendars, to our readers.
At the same time, we’re still devoted to that trusty print edition that rolls off our presses each night and serves as a foundation for all we do.
Want to know more? Click here for details about how the new site will function.