Evolving newspapers?

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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  • OK, I’ll bite.

    I’m one of those unimaginative reporters over at the IR. You’d probably give me a thumbs down.
    But here’s my two cents.

    I cover city and county government. The walking mall, sewer lines, subdivisions, deer — that’s my world.

    “Time” rather than a “lack of willingness” determines what sort of investigative reporting I do.

    I have spent many hours trolling through receipts for two major projects. Not that city and county employee travel or new vehicle purchases are sexy topics, but how government spends money is bread-and-butter stuff.

    As far as “challenge the status quo,” I’m pretty sure I ask the tough questions. Being a reporter is a two-way street, and I know we’re resented because of that. I hope I’m not as soft as Larry King!

    And the reason comments have to be approved is due to spam — drugs, gambling, porn, mortgages, etc. In the 17 months since I’ve had a blog, I’ve cut out one — count it! — comment due to content. You see, the MSM is liable for content. The blogosphere ain’t.

    Do we make mistakes? You bet. They keep me up at nights.

    I know, I know, as part of the big, bad MSM world, my opinion doesn’t count. So I’m sure you’ll whack away.

    But know that I’m open to suggestions.

  • Jason,

    Thanks for responding here. Though we have had some fairly harsh criticisms of the IR here, there, are no doubt, some stories that have been covered in great depth. My concern (and I believe this is true of all of us) is that too often papers do not challenge the major institutions in our community. I think your point about time is a valid one–there may be a lack of resources that leads to coverage that isn’t as strong as it could be.

    I also wonder about the new focus of the IR–with a heavy push on lifestyle articles and commentary. That seems like resources that could be better spent on hard news. I’m not sure the paper is going to draw in a lot of new readers writing about hamburgers and parties, though I could be wrong.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Pogie,

    I’m a hard news guy at heart, too.

    Keep firing out the criticisms — it keeps us honest, and that’s the most important function of the blogosphere, in my opinion.

    I do wish there was more vigorous online debate of Helena issues. I’m always trying to figure out what folx care about. Billings and Great Falls appear to have some good back-and-forth.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Hey there this is somewhat of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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