Letter from the editor: Readers see value of the Web, and pay for it
The big debate in newspapers this year has been over something called the "paid online model." It's a fancy way of asking this question: Can newspapers, at a time when readership of their Web sites is booming, begin to charge a fee -- even a smal...
The big debate in newspapers this year has been over something called the "paid online model."
It's a fancy way of asking this question: Can newspapers, at a time when readership of their Web sites is booming, begin to charge a fee -- even a small one -- to generate revenue to help cover some of the costs of running their newsgathering operations?
I'll admit I've been a doubter. Online newspapers have always been free, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal and a few others that recently have tried to take the plunge. Readers have become accustomed to getting their news free online. And all those free readers do benefit us: They help us sell online advertising.
Advertisers see a valuable audience. In the case of duluthnewstribune.com, it's 25,000 to 30,000 unique visitors every weekday. As online readership grows, advertisers want their messages on newspaper Web sites.
I still think advertising will remain the primary driver of revenue for newspaper sites. But something happened in the space of a couple of days recently that changed my mind about the viability of a paid online model.
Circulation Marketing Manager Steve Kidd walked into my office with two checks accompanied by letters from online readers. They wanted -- demanded, really -- to pay to continue enjoying the News Tribune online.
These weren't small checks. One reader paid the full cost of a year's subscription to our print newspaper. The other paid a little less, but still a significant amount. They did it independently, without knowledge of what the other was doing.
Kidd and I shook our heads. Readers demanding to pay for something they can get free? Who does that? People who see value in duluthnewstribune.com and want to ensure that it continues. People like Donald and Susan Farrell.
The couple was born and raised in Duluth and still live here part of the year. But they spend winters in Florida and travel. The online News Tribune makes sense for them.
"We think your Internet Web site is excellent," the Farrells wrote. "It helps us keep in touch with Duluth wherever we are traveling."
I called Susan Farrell and asked what prompted her and her husband to take that extra step, sending a check.
"I heard on MPR talk to the effect of how we don't want to lose our newspapers and the newsgathering component of the newspaper -- the community connection," she said. "I felt it was important to support it. It's a valuable asset."
Whether they are in town, in Florida or on the road, they stay in touch with Duluth electronically through us.
"It's all the community news," Susan Farrell said. And it's news she and her husband can't get anywhere else in the volume and quality we provide.
Chris Julin of Duluth also sees value. He prefers to get his news online, too. It's more environmentally friendly, he says. It also fits his needs. More efficient. More convenient.
But he understands it takes money to pay for reporters, photographers and editors who gather and produce that news. Julin has a bit more insight into the newspaper business. He teaches journalism at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Even if he's not a print subscriber, Julin wrote, "I want the Duluth News Tribune to continue reporting. I want Brandon Stahl to tell me what's going on at City Hall. I want Christa Lawler to tell me about a must-see concert that's coming up this weekend."
That value is beat reporting. Stahl covers Duluth city government and Lawler has the arts and entertainment beat. By assigning reporters to cover beats and develop relationships with sources, we get stories TV stations in town don't. In smaller operations, everyone usually becomes a general-assignment reporter. Stories get missed.
Julin and the Farrells put their money where their hearts are. It's something they didn't have to do. It's understanding what our business requires in order to continue providing the value they enjoy.
And for us at the News Tribune, it's encouraging.
ROB KARWATH is executive editor of the News Tribune and duluthnewstribune.com. You can reach him at (218) 720-4177 or email@example.com .