Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Strib to hold back some content

Nancy Barnes, editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune announced this week that the paper will begin holding back some content from the Web.

It will be the depth stories and similar items that the paper has invested significant resources in. As she put it: What types of stories will we hold back? Investigative projects, deeply reported nonbreaking news stories, beautifully written feature stories -- whatever content we think print readers might value most.

On one hand, I want to applaud the paper for at least experimenting. It's the only way we are going to get the experience needed to see what works and what doesn't. Normally, data from such experiments is considered proprietary and kept under wraps, but given the state of journalism and the thrashing about for business models, I hope Barnes will consider making the results public. I think it's vital the industry have such data.

Some early questions come to mind:
  • As one person commented: If it is really worthwhile, won't someone figure out a way to get it online anyway? This is not insignificant. For instance, if the Strib has that great investigative project fronted Monday morning, chances are drivetime radio is going to rewrite it; the TVs will have it on their morning shows, etc. Blogs will - no, may, since there won't be links -- comment on it. Will this drive traffic to "the paper" or satiate most people's information needs?
    • Barnes says the Strib has also asked the AP to not pick up these stories. That's going to put the AP in an interesting situation. What will it do if other members request the story (as they used to do in Ohio, with their laundry list of stories they wanted picked up from the Plain Dealer)? Will the AP still honor the request if the local TV rewrites the essence of the story and posts it online?
  • What happens if people hear about the story and go to the Web expecting to see it -- and it's not there (Barnes writes: The best of our deep, exclusive content will be available online later in the week, unless we have a compelling reason to post it sooner.) Will the pick up a paper and maybe decide they need a subscription (winning situation, but I think, doubtful), wait to see it later (neutral), or become po'd and learn that they probably can do without it and not come back (losing proposition)?
  • I think as much insight is to be gained from the comments to Barnes' post.
    • One writes: If you want more subscribers give us a reason to subscribe. My wife and I have been a long-time subscribers but we have been talking for a couple of years about stopping our subscription. It's going to happen soon. We get most of our news online; my college aged kids get all their news online . ... Give us a Kindle for a two-year subscription contract, which price-wise is about a wash. I get a Kindle with the Star Tribune delivered on it; you save the printing and delivering costs of the paper. Sounds like a win-win to me.
    • Another: So will more of us buy a paper if there is 'paper only' news? I doubt it. How will we know?
    • But one, "excopyed," called it one of the smartest moves the Strib has made lately.
Clearly, we still are shooting too much in the dark with a lot of our bleating about journalism business models. So this is one of those things to be watched closely. If Barned shares the data, it could tell us a lot.

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At 4/7/09, 12:37 PM, Anonymous egable said...

So let me get this straight. The Strib has lots of valuable content -- "investigative projects, deeply reported nonbreaking news stories, beautifully written feature stories" -- that it has determined it can no longer afford to give away for free. Fair enough.

But rather than try to turn all that great content into a source of revenue by selling online access to it, they're going to either (a) not offer it online at all, or (b) hold it back at first and then give it away for free a few days later?

At 4/8/09, 9:00 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Scratching my head, too.


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