I think it is fair to say that the staff at Intelligent Discontent spends a fair amount of time reading newspapers online. I would also admit that I don’t get a print subscription to any paper, including the local paper. I suppose one of the reasons why I don’t subscribe to IR is that I spend more time annoyed with their coverage, or lack thereof, of local issues and their lack of willingness to engage in investigative journalism or challenge the status quo at all. (For amusement, I suggest their Friday thumbs up/down editorial, which usually boils down to obviously good things getting thumbs up, and obviously bad things getting thumbs down… “Puppies? Sunshine? Thumbs up! Poverty? Bird flu? Thumbs down!”)
There is a very interesting article on Slashdot concerning the Internet and its effects on newspaper readership. The article makes several points about declining readership and details steps newspapers could take right now to evolve their Internet presence to increase revenues.
I would make a couple of comments about newspapers in light of the Slashdot article.
First, I think the Slashdot article is very correct about interactivity. For those that haven’t seen Slashdot, it is a popular news site covering technology issues. Readers send in blips about articles they have found and users comment on the articles. Certainly, the discussion isn’t always useful, meaningful or even civil, but discussion happens and the point of the site is to encourage interaction. Interestingly, the IR allows users to “comment” on articles, however, the comments must be approved. I have never seen an approved comment on their site, and every comment I have tried to post has either been ignored or denied, I am not sure which.
Second, I think it is time that the Internet finds a way to make pay-for content meaningful. I would pay to get the IR content every day under a few conditions. First, I believe in “micropayments.” Charge me 10 dollars a year for content they you are giving away to me for free now and assuming there was value to the content, I’d probably pay for it. I was sad when the New York Times started charging for much of their content and would have agreed to pay some to get access back but I simply cannot justify paying $50 or $75 or $100 dollars a year for that. Second, I think you would need to give me all of a paper’s content. Papers across the state of Montana avoid placing all of their content online because they perceive that if they do, readership will suffer. For example, the Great Falls Tribune doesn’t put letters to the editor online, something I read for both information and amusement. Will I purchase a Tribune to get the letters? Nope. Frankly, I’m not sure I know someone who would.
I there there is quite a discussion to have concerning the future of media in light of the Internet. The larger point the Slashdot article makes is that the newspaper business is trying to apply old models of the business to the new world. This is a recipe for failure.