The New ADN Paywall
The publisher of the Anchorage Daily News has announced the paper will begin charging readers 80 bucks a year to access its website.
In one respect, I’m quite sympathetic to the paper’s move.
I support paying reporters, editors, photographers and others who allow a news organization to exist. Few of the folks who are howling, and who feel entitled to the work of others for free, go to their own jobs without compensation.
I believe an informed citizenry is crucial to a functioning democracy, and we had better ensure journalists continue to cover things like school board meetings, legislative hearings, and do other thankless but important shoeleather reporting that allows us to know what’s happening in our communities, how our tax dollars are being spent, and what elected officials are doing in our name.
Given that newspapers have lost a critical revenue stream—classified ads—to the likes of Craigslist, and Monster.com, and given that the new media environment has spoiled us into thinking of news products as “free,” we had better figure out an economic model that allows for us to continue being informed. Even sites like The Huffington Post won’t be “aggregating” much if there’s nothing to aggregate, nor opining on news when there’s no news on which to opine.
The problem with the ADN’s move is entirely in its timing.
I have a paid digital subscription to the New York Times site and mobile app. It’s an outstanding product and I’m happy to support good journalism. And had the ADN made this move a couple of years ago, it could be a different story.
But the ADN has been decimating its newsroom through multiple rounds of layoffs. They’ve been able to keep a few crackerjack reporters, but it’s a far cry from what it was back in the day. It has begun to rely on reprinting more wire copy and doing less of its own reporting. The paper paper looks more like a pamphlet, and despite a much anticipated redesign, its current improved website is a jumbled, unattractive mess.
Those are not the ideal circumstances under which to propose what is a challenging transition in the first place. You cannot easily downgrade your product and then upgrade your price.
If Coca-Cola said to its customers, “we realize you’re not crazy about our soda, and it’s kind of lame, but if you start supporting us financially we can do some R&D and come up with something better,” it’s unlikely the company would have much market share these days.
This would have been a more successful move if it had been made before the ADN slashed and burned its news room to a skeletal shadow of its former, award-winning self.
That said, I hope they make it. Alaska’s largest city deserves a functioning, viable daily paper, and if enough of us believe in the dream of a new and improved Coke, who knows?