The Newport Daily News made headlines this summer when it began charging for access to its online edition in a bid to send readers scurrying back to the more profitable paper product.
Here was an old media company flaunting the new media rules in a gallant — or, depending on one's point of view, hopelessly backward — attempt to stay afloat.
But just as the newspaper was launching its counter-offensive, an erstwhile member of the Daily News family was mounting a sort of online rebuke to the paper's bravado.
Lynne Tungett, who founded Newport Life Magazine in 1994, later sold it to the Daily News and stayed on with the new owners for a time, is the force behind Newport Now, a two-month-old web site that offers free news on the latest boat races and development contretemps in the city by the sea.
And Tungett, who was planning the site before the Daily News announced its experiment, insists that free news is not just an inevitability, but a duty. Readers should not have to pay, she says, to keep tabs on the City Council or School Committee.
Newspaper execs who complain that they cannot finance in-depth coverage of local government with the give-it-away-for-free model that prevails these days? Well, Tungett doesn't have much patience for them.
"I think newspapers and the traditional media are just plain whining," she said.
It is time to build a new business model, Tungett said. Time to adapt to the new reality. "The world has changed," she said.
It is a common refrain. And there is, of course, much to recommend the view. Fighting the Internet may be a hopeless endeavor.
But the trouble is that no one has figured out how to deliver anything approaching the level of coverage that traditional newspapers could afford in the glory days. And that's what makes the Daily News' experiment so intriguing.
The paper reports a bump in newsstand purchases, since it began charging for access to its Web site. And Daily News brass, derided as dinosaurs in some corners when they launched the experiment, are now fielding speaking requests.
Newport Now, meanwhile, is still a work in progress.
The site has just three or four regular contributors, Tungett said, all of them freelancers. There are some technical issues to be worked out — compatibility with different browsers, proper capture of video and the like. And Newport Now has not yet started selling advertising.
But readership is building. The site claims about 1000 unique visitors per week, on average. And Tungett, who built Newport Life from scratch, says she has "every confidence" in her ability to get the new venture humming — to build a sizable staff that can provide coverage on par with a traditional newspaper. It will just take a little time, she says.
"In their first couple of months," she said, of the 163-year-old Daily News, "I dare say they were probably a good deal smaller than they are now."
But her chief argument for the eventual success of the site is something bigger — the march of progress. The Internet is king, she says. The news shall be free. And the traditional newspaper, she suggests, is doomed for the scrapheap of history.
The nascent news war in Newport is as good a test as any for her theory.