Will People Pay For Investigative Journalism To Get The Results A Week Early

from the some,-but-not-many... dept

Tracy writes in to alert us to an attempt by a Milwaukee newspaper to get people to pay, specifically for investigative reporting, by publishing it in the paper a week before it goes online for free and by offering it online only to paying subscribers:
Investigative reporting is the most expensive form of journalism produced by the Journal Sentinel newsroom. Because of the expense and resources it requires, we are giving our print and e-edition subscribers exclusive access to the Preacher's Mob series. We will be doing this on a regular basis with certain enterprise stories and investigations. Online readers will be able to see the full story later this week. For now, all readers can read this summary version below or click on several interactive and multimedia features, including a mini-documentary that contains jailhouse interviews, audio files of secret recordings of Michael Lock by a law enforcement informant, and an interactive map of key dates and places in the world of Michael Lock. With an e-edition subscription, you can read the full series as it unfolds over five days in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel starting May 17.
On the whole, I don't think this is as bad an idea as some others, but it's difficult to see how it'd be successful. If the details of a story are really that interesting, then any other news organization in the area has incentive to at least report on the high points for free online and get all the online traffic that the Journal Sentinel should have received. Also, the number of people who really think it's worth paying for a few investigative reports to get it a week before others get to see it seems like a very small audience. I'd imagine the lost online ad revenue from not drawing traffic to the website is a much bigger number than the incremental new subscribers who want to read the story at the Journal Sentinel.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    nebcfsj, May 18th, 2009 @ 10:24pm

    paying for online news

    NOT going to happen.

    I read it online now so I can be selective and skip all the material I do not want to see at all. I think that others do so as well.

    If it becomes no longer free here then I will go elsewhere. I already pay 115 a month for high speed cable, just under 90 a month for satellite tv, and 160 a month for cellular services for me and my wife along with a land line at just about 50 a month.

    Tapped out? No but enough is enough and I have other things to do anyway.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 18th, 2009 @ 11:32pm

    I wonder when these online outlets will realize how much more valuable reliable eyeballs are than short term subscription revenues.

    I have 3-5 sites that I visit daily because they provide real value to me. You know what is the most important thing for me? These sites are all FREE!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 18th, 2009 @ 11:42pm

    Re:

    I visit your site daily Mike... How valuable is that to you? Would you be able to run your business if you setup a subscription wall?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:14am

    While the content is not exactly analogous (in that who really cares about seeing an investigative report early?), I can't help but think of Crunchyroll, which is also attempting to get users to pay a subscription fee so that they won't have to wait a week to see content. (Their subscribers also gain access to higher quality video.)

    (See also the related previous story on TechDirt.)

     

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  5.  
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    martin, May 19th, 2009 @ 12:29am

    Why not?

    If they put everything online and solely rely on ads, they're completely dependent on the ad companies. If someone acutally comes up scanning the print articles to put the stories online earlier, they could still adapt to that in a matter. That party couldn't possibly copy/paste the complete article, so the print version still has advantages. The people who write "if it isn't free i won't read it" will not benefit the journalist anyways.
    It won't be the broad mass that will subscribe those stories in print, but that was never the case. Some folks might just like a head start on the news, and these are the kind that value information enough to pay some extra money. If they put teasers online and i find some topic interesting, i might just buy a print version myself.

     

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  6.  
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    Griff (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 1:24am

    This model already works for stock values

    You can get free stick tickers 15 minutes late, but you subscribe to bloomberg to get them immediately.

    I think that the "I want it now" camp might be prepared to use a (very cheap, quick and easy) micropayments scheme to see a headline (or see exclusive pictures) an hour before anyone else picked up the story.

    I think the legal status of exclusive would end up being tested a lot more firmly in court though.

    But wait a week for an in-depth ?

    I subscribe to the economist, because it's convenient having a magazine at the saturday breakfast table. I am not paying for the content (which I am certainly able to get online somewhere) but for the convenience. My time & convenience is move valuable to me than my share of their subscription and ad revenue.

    I could even imagine a model where things were completely reversed from where everyone assumes it is heading. As I walk to the train my local news-stand hands me a newspaper tailored to me (that was printed at 2am) which I subscribe to and which gives me in a single read every website and magazine I am interested in. It also features google-like ads that relate to the sort of things that might appeal to me.

     

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  7.  
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    Grady, May 19th, 2009 @ 2:47am

    Hmmm

    First, @Griff: I think there is a site that does that to an extent ( I can't remember the details or if it was just a model Mike mentioned here on techdirt).

    Second, I can see this working. By what I understand from your excerpt only the journalist column (Preacher's Mob) is behind any "paywall". Anyone that subscribes gets this "bonus" column. It's what Mike is always talking about, adding value. It gives people a reason to pay. You still get your free news online, you just have to wait for their "exclusive" section (which IMO is the correct term since the Preacher's Mob is exclusive to their paper).

    No business model is perfect, but I think this is a huge step in right direction for newspapers.

     

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  8.  
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    YouAreWrong, May 19th, 2009 @ 5:09am

    except speed is not the high point of mainstream media

    Remember that story regarding the fake peer reviewed medical journals that the MSM broke about a week ago? Well an australian news site broke that story in early april. It crossed the pond to the US in two VERY in-depth blog posts at the scientist a few weeks later. ABC news finally picked it up last week, and most newspapers still haven't broken the story online.

    One of the bloggers on Cnet put it best -- this whole hot news / aggregation / rss bit is going to destroy the newspaper industry, not because aggregators are somehow stealing something, but because investigative journalism is mostly done from behind a keyboard. They get most of their info from business wire (all press releases) and court/administrative filings, and wikipedia -- all of which are available online.

     

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  9.  
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    BobinBaltimore (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 5:31am

    I applaud TechDirt for finding this "not free" idea to be at least not terrible. I'm not sure the model here is perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Investigative reporting is among the most desired information that traditional newspapers produce, and it is expensive to produce. Using it as a hook isn't a bad idea. For this paper, in going with print first, they obviously value the subscription (and ad revenue driven by sub numbers) as more valuable than generic online eyes, which makes sense given that online ads bring in paltry revenue for most newspapers relative to print. I agree that other competing news organizations will cover the highlights, but with investigative journalism, a goodly portion of the draw is the details.

    As for your comment "I'd imagine the lost online ad revenue from not drawing traffic to the website is a much bigger number than the incremental new subscribers who want to read the story at the Journal Sentinel." It's this type of comment that makes me think TechDirt breaks from reality completely at times. Online ad revenue for most papers (and most sites in general) is PALTRY (and recently dropping). The value of a few thousand subscribers on the print side is (likely to be) much greater to this modest-sized paper. For most media organizations, though online advertising as a source of revenue has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last 5 years (until late 2008) it is still typically 5 - 15% of print revenue. While the figure I mention is focused mostly on the magazine space, I think it is reasonable to extrapolate that newspapers probably fall into the same universe, especially if they don't have a strong online classifieds system...which many don't.

     

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  10.  
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    BobinBaltimore (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 5:34am

    Re:

    Oops...and I realize that it's print AND e-subscribers that get to see it first.

     

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  11.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, May 19th, 2009 @ 5:44am

    Re: Re:

    "Would you be able to run your business if you setup a subscription wall?"

    I would guess that the answer would be "no". This site gets it's money from the Insight Community. The way to get more people to use the Insight Community is to get more eyes here to see that it exists and is a good source for insight. Put up a pay wall (or even just a log in), people stop coming, and less eyes see the main money maker.

    Plus, after all the articles about embracing free and selling finite goods, putting up a pay wall would be hypocritical and betray the loyal readers.

    I wish the Journal Sentinel luck in trying to sell their investigative skills (That's what they're selling, not the news itself). Hopefully, for them, the skills are good enough that people are willing to pay to get it early.

     

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  12.  
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    lulz, May 19th, 2009 @ 6:05am

    Re: This model already works for stock values

     

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  13.  
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    lulz, May 19th, 2009 @ 6:07am

    Re: This model already works for stock values

    I think that the "I want it now" camp might be prepared to use a (very cheap, quick and easy) micropayments scheme to see a headline (or see exclusive pictures) an hour before anyone else picked up the story.

    And then they will show it to their friends, or post it somewhere else, effectively nullifying the point of a paywall.

     

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  14.  
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    Griff (profile), May 19th, 2009 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: This model already works for stock values

    >> then they will show it to their friends, or post it somewhere else, effectively nullifying the point of a paywall.

     

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  15.  
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    nasch, May 19th, 2009 @ 8:05am

    Re: Why not?

    If they put everything online and solely rely on ads, they're completely dependent on the ad companies.

    They already are, they just don't seem to want to admit it.

    That party couldn't possibly copy/paste the complete article, so the print version still has advantages.

    Not to sound overly snarky, but there are these things called scanners, and software called OCR. If someone wants to republish a print article online, it's not that hard. They could even type the whole thing in.

    The people who write "if it isn't free i won't read it" will not benefit the journalist anyways.

    Wrong, any people advertisers are willing to advertise to will benefit the news outlet.

    Some folks might just like a head start on the news, and these are the kind that value information enough to pay some extra money.

    Quite right. It will be interesting to see how many people that is.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 1:09pm

    So how is putting "good" content behind a paywall a good thing? How is that any different from a regular pay wall? If the NYT's put Frank Rich behind a pay wall, wouldn't that just lessen the amount of people to be exposed to his writing? Isn't that bad too?

    Content is content, if you put something behind a paywall, it will get out anyway.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2009 @ 6:53pm

    I would gladly pay for the lotto results a week early.

     

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