The other day, I was following the tweets of a newspaper reporter who was reporting on a city council meeting. I wasn’t following the action on purpose; the tweets just came fast and furious in my stream. The council was arguing, and he recorded it well. So, I made a note to myself to read his story when it was filed. (I’m wonky in that way.) So far, so good.
A few hours later, a Google Alert in my email pointed me to his story. It was a good story and satisfied me. I doubt it satisfied the powers to be at the paper, though. It came via insurancenewsnet.com, not from news-record.com. (I never got a Google Alert about the story on the News & Record’s website.)
If I were thinking about erecting a paywall, as the News & Record has done, I would test the market. (And perhaps the paper has done it.) A few things I’d do:
*Set up a variety of Google Alerts for the topics you cover. In this case, “Greensboro City Council” and “Guilford schools” and “UNCG” and “A&T” and the like. See who is on the web covering the same issues you are. Compare what they do with what you’re doing. With ice in your veins, decide whether a reader needs your story if they can read the other.
*Cross tab what you write about with the TV stations and other news media. If the police chief holds a news conference about say, what to do if you see a child locked in a car, it’s pretty likely at least one other news outlet will cover it, too. Again, does a reader need your version if TV’s version is good enough? *Each day, Google your primary content to find if others have scraped it off your site or have imitated it or if you can find similar stories elsewhere.
Then, once you have that data, use it to determine what you have to offer potential subscribers that is relevant, unique and worth paying for. Stating the obvious, if I can find most of what I need to know without any trouble and without any cost, why would I pay to get into your site?
Be careful, though, in deciding what you have that is worth paying for. Don’t be easy on yourself: Is it a strong editorial voice? I can get a lot of those elsewhere. Is it indepth college sports coverage? I can get a lot of that elsewhere. Is it broad entertainment news? Doesn’t the free weekly tab cover that? Is it intensely local news and information? Great — but it needs to be intensely local news and information I care about. If, for instance, it’s high school sports — you’ve lost me.
Be ruthless with yourself. Chances are the exercise will not only give you pause about what you’re offering online, it will cause you to re-evaluate what you write about in the first place. My advice is to put the emphasis on unique and relevant.
Robert G. Picard raises the ante with a story of his own about trying to find original reporting, but only finding journalists building on each other. “As this case shows, they are doing nothing new, adding nothing or little, and essentially copying each other and themselves. This gives readers nothing they cannot get elsewhere, so how can they expect people to see it as valuable.
“This value creation deficit is especially a challenge if news organizations want readers to pay for journalism, but it is increasingly a problem even in asking them to spend time reading free content.”