Newspapers Having Trouble Reporting On Their Own Paywalls

from the lock-'em-up dept

It appears that newspaper giant Gannett, owner of USA Today and a bunch of regional newspapers, is beginning to experiment with putting up some paywalls on many of its regional newspapers. Jeff Sonderman has been pointing out, on his Twitter feed, that many of the newspaper’s announcements about their own paywalls are really bad reporting. Now it looks like Steve Buttry has written up a blog post pointing out just how bad these newspapers are at announcing their own paywalls.

They give misleading headlines, they pretend that paywalls are some huge journalistic advance (rather than just a business model choice — and one that’s been tried and failed a bunch), and most importantly, they all totally bury the lede, and don’t bring up the paywall until many paragraphs into the article. In the online announcements from The Tallahassee Democrat, the Greenville News and the St. George Spectrum, the paywall isn’t even mentioned on the first page of each of those articles. Instead, you have to click through to the later pages to even find out what the announcements are about! Talk about burying the lede…

All three waste the beginning of their articles talking up how great they are and how important they are, as newspapers, to their community. But it’s all just a way to try to butter people up before hitting them with “so now we’re charging for access to our web content.” They’re acting as if they think their readers are stupid — which isn’t exactly a strong selling point for getting people to pay you money.

Buttry points to other failings in these announcements that any business journalist would have certainly covered if doing the same story about another business:

The editors and publishers who signed the Gannett announcements boast of the resources they commit to covering local news, without acknowledging they have cut those resources severely in companywide staff cuts in recent years. The Tallahassee and Greenville announcements prattle on at length about their newspapers’ history (appropriate, I guess, since they are clinging to a strategy rooted in the past).

None of the three announcements discloses that the papers are conducting an experiment for Gannett (in fact, none of the announcements even mentions Gannett). I’m pretty sure that the editors of those papers would expect their business writers to note such a fact in stories about any other business in town.

What we’re seeing is the implicit realization that these newspapers know a paywall won’t work. If it was something their audience wanted, they would be upfront and honest about it. Or if they had a good rationale for the decision they would be upfront and honest about it. Instead they have to be misleading, defensive and hide the important point. Quite an “experiment” by Gannett…

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Companies: gannett

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Comments on “Newspapers Having Trouble Reporting On Their Own Paywalls”

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GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

SeeeYaaa....Won't miss ya...

I’ve had enough one sided crap-casting for one lifetime and layered upon the snobbery and snipe-editorial-ism, the insult of all that nasty soybean inky crap on my fingers.

Print news extinction couldn’t happen soon enough to suit me.

Now how to pry that Sunday only subscription outta the Wife’s hands.

Oh, wait. That has the Fry’s ad.

WendyNorris (profile) says:

Online coupons

Good grief. Gannett’s announcement could only be more cringe-worthy if it also blamed bloggers and Craiglist for its slow motion descent into oblivion.

As an exclusively online investigative reporter this latest development in pulp-based irrelevancy saddens me for the abject lack of business vision for funding future journalism by companies with incredible networks and resources at their disposal.

Beyond online classifieds and goods/services review sites that should have been the domain of local newspapers, there’s another revenue-generating barbarian at the gate.

Proctor and Gamble is pushing a pretty smart online coupon program for its products. Register your grocery store shopper’s card on their website, check the P&G products you expect to buy and the savings upload to the register via the card at the time of purchase.

I’d imagine the customer data for intentional and actual sales that they’re grabbing has got to be marketing gold. And yet one more example of rendering useless the Thursday and Sunday ad-laden papers (and, hallelujah, direct mail circulars too).

Overtkill (profile) says:


Newspapers are all going to die eventually unless they adapt with the times. The Salt Lake Tribune was sending their delivery boys out last week doing their “Free weekend paper for a month” deal, in an attempt to increase circulation. Many paper’s do this at least on an annual basis. I always refuse them.

Anyways, As long as news is free somewhere else, their pay for news service model will flop. However, something I have noticed is that often the newspapers often produce better articles/information in their stories than many TV network news sites. Their thoroughness is often excellent. Perhaps a higher, more professional level of journalist lives at these papers? The kind of people that understand a better quality news story is better than being first, and often inaccurate? (Though we’ve seen some horrendous mistakes from them as well.)

If they truly want to charge, perhaps they should offer services in those accounts that do actually pay. Call it a tier, or whatever. But something like a free 3 or 4 line add in the PRINT version of the classifieds for a few days a week, or perhaps offering the Sunday paper with their online subscription… You get the idea.

As the older generations of people that rely on the papers for news, -pass on, I am betting the news papers will completely die out. Its already happening.

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