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The Internet may, in the end, crush the American newspaper.

Advertisers ditched the classifieds for craigslist long ago. And the industry's on-line strategy — give away the product for free — doesn't seem to be working out too well.

But here in li'l Rhody, a li'l experiment is underway. Just last week, the Newport Daily News announced that it would restrict online access to subscribers only.

That's right, readers will have to pay for the news.

Reaction to the move, judging by comments posted on the Daily News Web site, is not so good. "It's a little bit of an uphill battle, in terms of public perception, because people are used to getting news for free," said Sheila Mullowney, executive editor of the paper.

But if the biz is to survive, the battle must be joined. That is, if it's not too late.

The industry's decision to give away stories on the Interzone seems breathtakingly dumb in retrospect. But there was, in fairness, a certain inevitability to the move.

The world was moving online. It was all about attracting eyeballs. And the Web was bound to be a moneymaker, someday, right?

The execs at the Daily News, a 163-year-old newspaper, had some hesitation from the start. The paper has always withheld a few popular items from the Web site — letters to the editor, the honor roll, the police blotter — in a bid to keep readers buying the more profitable print edition.

And there were some stories that just never made it to the Web. But the sampling of news, sports, editorials, and columns that did appear was enough for some. "People will take whatever they can get for free," Mullowney said.

The newspaper's circulation, like that of just about every newspaper, declined — from some 14,000 or 15,000 a decade ago, Mullowney said, to about 11,000 now.

That drop, of course, is not as dramatic as the freefall afflicting some of the nation's larger newspapers, including the Providence Journal.

After all, small newspapers pushing hyper-local news are often the only source for the sort of City Council and sewer system coverage that excites a certain kind of reader.

But the blow was real. And with advertising revenue down, too, the Daily News has shed about half its reporting staff over the last 10 years.

Of course, abandoning the Web altogether is not a real option. So the six-day-per-week, afternoon newspaper is turning to the e-paper, an online version that looks exactly like the real thing. Readers click on a story of interest and a text box pops up.

The launch of the new tool, available for free for about a month, has created some confusion — the Daily News' Web gurus had to plant a big red missive atop the mock-up directing visitors to "Click Here for the E-Paper." They have also posted lengthy instructions on navigating the electronic version.

And the new model seems to promise less in the way of online, breaking news, though the paper is weighing some sort of e-mail alert program for subscribers.

But the Daily News, which will continue to offer some photographs and online polls on its site for free, seems less-than-concerned about its clunky online interface and return to a slower-paced news delivery.

"We're not trying to be a 24-hour on-line news service, we're trying to be a newspaper first," Mullowney said.

That explains why it actually costs more for a subscriber to get an online only subscription to the Daily News ($345 per year) than a combined paper-electronic subscription ($245) or a paper-only subscription ($145).

Indeed, if frustrated readers abandon the Web site and get the print version instead, well, that's OK with the Daily News.

The Newport paper is not the first in Rhode Island to try this model. The Westerly Sun, which went on-line about two-and-a-half years ago, offers a few of its lead stories on the web and makes the rest available in an e-paper for subscribers.

Tim Ryan, president and publisher of the Sun Publishing Company, says he does not have any hard data on the impact on the bottom line. But he says he has a "gut feeling" the Sun went in the right direction.

"When we watched some of the biggest papers in the country give away the news, we wrestled" with what we should do, he said.

"Lo and behold, the big guys are rocking on their heels," he added. "Here's one for the little guys, I think."


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Re: No free ride at Daily News' Web site
Yet the fact is that readers never did pay for newspaper content -- your 50 cents per day at best helped to cover the costs of paper and distribution. It was the ads that paid for the content, and the problem with the Web is that the newspaper industry no longer owns the only printing press in town. Just the loss of classifieds has been a big blow (Pew recently had a study on this). We need to come up with new ways to pay for the important investigative journalism we need. It might mean that a newspaper like the ProJo needs to focus on that, publish once or twice a week, and charge a lot more. Or maybe new nonprofits need to take over the work. A lot of the other stuff -- local police blotters and obits, city council reports, business news -- can be taken over by other online content producers who can target the audience, keep overhead low, and sell ads.The bottom line is, we dont need newspapers. But we do need news, and journalists, and information. The means of delivery is going to have to evolve. Readers, whether online or in print, won't pay for it unless they need it and cant get it anywhere else. Seems to me if the Newport paper would rather keep its readers buying the print version, why not just shut the Web site down. 
By naturalnews on 05/28/2009 at 6:04:08

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 See all articles by: DAVID SCHARFENBERG

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