Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Why I will be paying to get the Waco Tribune-Herald online

Starting next week, much of the online content of the Waco Tribune-Herald will be available only if you subscribe to the paper or pay $9.95 for online access (more info here).

At one level, this is a mini-disaster for the Razor. I have always linked to newspaper articles, especially those from the Trib. I'm losing a significant part of the content I count on to share with you, and some good links to my own history.

Still, I will be paying for on-line access, and will do so enthusiastically. I want access to the Trib, I understand and support their reasons for making the change, and I very much want this community institution to survive and thrive in a new era of media.

The truth is that advertising on the internet brings in very little revenue. Those sites that can make it on the revenue stream available on the internet use free content-- for example, the Drudge Report links to other articles, and the Huffington Post does not pay its writers. The Trib does not have the ability to follow those models-- it pays writers to stay in Waco and cover local issues and sports. Providing all the content of the Trib online for free is pretty much the same as giving it away while still paying the writers. As consumers, we all like stuff for free, but we also understand (if we know anything about business) that without a revenue stream, there is no reason for a business to keep providing a good or service.

I was exchanging messages with a Trib writer recently on this topic. He made the excellent analogy to the pro bono work that I do as an attorney. As a lawyer, I do quite a bit of pro bono work, but I can't do so much that I lose my revenue stream, whatever that is. No one would expect me to, either. As a business, I can't expect a different model from the Trib, as subscribers inexorably move from the print version to the online version which does not produce much advertising revenue. The Trib is not a charity, and we have no right to the work of good writers for free.

Here are my primary reasons for paying to get the Trib online, both selfish and altruistic (and a business only succeeds if it appeals to our selfish motives):

1) I selfishly want to get news about Baylor and Waco, and there is simply no other source that provides such complete coverage of what is going on with things including Baylor sports.

2) I think the Trib is an excellent paper for the size of the community it serves. Local control has been great in that the Robinsons have spent money on the thing and invested in what the Trib does best-- put beat writers on local stories. Having lived other places, I find the work of Trib writers to be remarkable given the size of the market. It is also well-edited. Over the past year I have written for national (the Huffington Post), regional (the Dallas Morning News) and local outlets (the Trib), and I find the people at the Trib to be highly professional even in comparison to those larger entities.

3) I want the Trib to survive, for the good of Waco. It is an important part of a community I care about. Blogs, TV stations, message boards-- none of them are as crucial to the identity of a place as the newspaper, and we give up those things that define us at our own peril.

So, here goes my $9.95... and I urge you to do the same.

Oh, and... I really like the Trib writers I know personally. Down to the last one, they are people who work hard and do good work, and are damn fun to be with.
Newspaper readership is way down, due to people wanting to get their news online (like every normal person under 70), and now they're going to charge for it? I predict this will not turn out well for the Trib. If the option is pay to get the story from the Trib website or just not care, I fear most will lean towards not caring or just getting their news from somewhere else. I like the Trib as much as the next guy, but asking people to pay for access to most websites is like redirecting their link to a different website with similar content.
Justin: what website has similar content for local news?

There aren't really any (other than the Baylor Lariat, which is decent albeit limited in resources). My point is that for most local news, people won't bother to pay when they'll hear it on the local news or find out from somewhere else. Maybe it'll pick up readership of the physical paper; my fear is that the attitude will be "pay for it? ehh no thanks."

(NB: I certainly don't fault the Waco Trib for not wanting to give away its product for free, I'm just not confident it will be popular enough to make worthwhile)
I'm queasy about the decision. I understand wanting to turn a profit, God knows newspapers have to find some way to if they're going to survive.

But I'm worried that if it fails, the blame will fall on the heads of the writers. I worry that the message from the management will be "If your content had been better, this would work." Already, I cringe when people tell me they won't pay because the site isn't "worth" it. Ouch.

Clearly, I have an intimate interest in this ... and maybe my fears are just paranoia. I guess only time will tell.
Wendy-- I DO think it's worth it. That's why I'm paying. However, I can see your concern... and I hope it doesn't fail, and if it does, that we don't hear that excuse. The truth is that the Trib is going out ahead of many other papers in doing this, and there is real risk in going first, regardless of content.
Is that pickles the demon cat coming to get you in the photo?
I read the St. Pete Times on-line and I would pay to access it. Although I live in Durham, NC I have not yet engaged in local politics and can get what I need from the local TV and NPR station. I get world and national news for the New York Times as a subscriber.

The old saying is: "You get what you pay for". So if I want quality journalism and reporting I am willing to pay for it and supplement my reading with with free sources and opinions (including the Razor) on line.
This is the only place to get news about pandas, turtle fences and Pickles the cat.
Tonight only: A turtle fence cage match between Pickles the Cat and Grar the giant maverick panda....
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