Frequently, someone calls to ask if I can send a story from our website that is locked, meaning subscriber-only. Or I have to send an email politely asking a business to remove a story of ours that is posted on a company website for everyone to read.
This is all part of an education campaign we’ve been waging at newspapers over the last few years. Part of our job is to explain how newspapers have changed, and how those changes affect readers.
At the Idaho Business Review, it’s our policy not to send subscription-only material to non-subscribers.
But would-be readers have a couple of other options. They can buy a PDF of the story and use it as they like, on their website or at the bottom of the birdcage (though I’d recommend the more absorbent newsprint copy for that function).
They can get a monthlong trial subscription, effectively paying a few bucks for the story.
Or they can subscribe, committing themselves to a year of reading the IBR, or at least having access to it.
IBR introduced its website in 2001. In early 2010, most of the Web content became subscription-only. There is still plenty of content available on the site for free, including our news briefs, some stories and almost all of the columns.
But people who find us on Google and try to read a story are still frustrated when they bump up against our pay wall.
It’s hard to get used to. For as long as I can remember, pretty much everything I’ve wanted to see online has been available whenever I want it. Most of the newspapers I read are free. That, or I signed up for subscriptions a long time ago, and now they’re just freely available, although money is being deducted from my bank account every month.
But a lot of people who want to read stories only occasionally aren’t happy with the way things are going. And many of our readers would like to post our subscription-only stories on their websites for all of their customers to see.
To them I explain: If the content is worth reading, it’s worth paying for. This is not a philosophical argument about what information should be free and to whom. It’s just an immutable fact: If we want reporters to gather local information and deliver it accurately, we’re going to have to pay them.
A newspaper is a business. A reporter’s job is to talk to the local movers and shakers and come up with the business intelligence our readers need. Writers work hard. Even when they’re off the clock, they’re following the industries they cover, striking up conversations with business owners, meeting analysts, and following rumors and social media to get tips on local openings, closings, sales, moves and trends.
A newspaper makes money for reporters’ salaries through subscriptions and advertising.
Newspapers didn’t clue into the value of charging for their online stories until long after everybody had grown accustomed to reading all the news they wanted without having to pay. In fact, if you’re satisfied with Yahoo News and its ilk, the news is still free – although you don’t necessarily know it’s coming from a neutral source.
But the pay wall works for IBR because local news is tremendously valuable. Readers always will have access to a range of national outlets, but reliable local intelligence comes from only a few places in Idaho, and it’s worth paying for.
Or as the writer Jock Lauterer, a former newspaper publisher/editor and now a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, put it:
“News is like a hurricane. The closer it gets, the more important it becomes to you.”
Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.