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...