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December 22, 2014

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?

Comments

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Comments
11 Responses to “The New ADN Paywall”
  1. Iggie Bee says:

    The other major problem ADN has is the way the paywall is implemented on the site. You have no idea it even exists, you click a headline, and BLAM! They ask for $80. to read it.

    Seriously?

    That’s a fantastic way to halt sales. You can’t even get past the splash (and learn of other payment options?) without agreeing to sign up — so I just clicked away, annoyed.

    If the splash said “You have three more free articles this month…” or something like “starting next month, this won’t be free. Sign up for a special introductory online rate now…” so I knew what to expect, it might not have ticked me off.

    Bad plan, ADN, bad plan.

  2. Brian says:

    One of the key responsibilities of the ADN should be reporting on local Anchorage government. Unfortunately, their reporter covering the Muni beat, Rosemary Shinohara, has been doing a horrible job for years. As a close observer of the Muni budgeting process for several years, I have lost track of how many times she has written incorrect or incomplete stories, let alone the many instances where she has not covered an important story at all. It is my firm belief that Mayor Sullivan and his crew are well aware her incompetence and/or apathy and use it to their advantage whenever possible. To all those below who seem to think there is some sort of active right wing conspiracy at the ADN, consider that the huge reductions in staff, their forced cuts in pay and benefits, and the incompetence or apathy of the staff that remain are the only things necessary for the Sullivan/Parnell/Prevo crowd to get whatever they want out of (or into) the newspaper. I agree with Ms. Devon that if the ADN does not improve it’s product, they are going to have a hard time making this work.

  3. Moose Pucky says:

    The wealthy like to talk to each other only.

  4. Blooper says:

    I believe the paywall will only kick in after a certain number of article views a month. I can’t remember exactly what that limit is but it’s something like 15-20 views. Personally I’m torn about this decision to implement a paywall. On the one hand I agree that it shouldn’t be just on the advertisers to shoulder the burden of providing revenue to the online section of the ADN, and that it is fair for the ADN to expect readers to kick in their fair share if they are deriving a benefit from the site.

    On the other hand Ithink that if readers choose to pay then they should get more than just unlimited access to the same old site. Perhaps access to the entire printed paper in pdf format? I know they offer that now, but they charge 9.95 for 4 weeks and I think as it stands that would not be included in paywall they will soon be imposing. One thing I am certain on is that they need more staffing to produce original content. Perhaps increased revenue will allow that.

    Incidentally I heard from a friend that works there that they took a massive hit in subscriptions when they endorsed Obama in 08′. Gotta give them credit for standing for the right choice in the face of backlash.

    • Moose Pucky says:

      The reader’s comments are the best part of the adn site. ADN is going to be not worth reading without its reader’s comments.

      • Blooper says:

        The reader comments are definitely most entertaining (if at times infuriating). If one ever wanted a good cross section of the what Alaska body politic is thinking, head on over to any given hot button article and read the comments. Might want to bring some protective gear.

  5. Zyxomma says:

    It is true that without viable sources, paid-for-by-advertising websites like HuffPo won’t have much to publish. I, too, pay for an online subscription to nytimes.com, and anyone who doesn’t pay has access to only ten articles a month (when they first instituted the paywall, it was twenty). The same is true at latimes.com, for which I don’t have a paid subscription. I also pay for an online subscription to Women’s Wear Daily; I need it for my work. A friend frequently sends me links to articles at Wall Street Journal, but without a subscription, only the first paragraph is accessible. If I remember correctly, it’s possible to purchase access to single articles, but I could not bring myself to pay for anything which will profit Rupert Murdoch (with the sole exception of renting a DVD of the rare good movie).

    Unfortunately, Alaska’s largest city has a small population when compared to cities Outside. I hope ADN gets its act (back) together; every city needs at least one functional paper. Unfortunately, such a thing is rare and getting rarer.

  6. ivan says:

    i stopped going to the adn website long ago. I found it to be a pathetic excuse for a newspaper experience.
    i expect a news paper website experience to be like a newspaper experience, it was not.
    they left the same content up for days., i want to have a fresh “paper” everyday, just like a print addition.
    all that aside , i want a paper to be neutral in its reporting , not slanted to one political side or the other. ADN in not much better than Fox news.

  7. Slant the News says:

    Well in the days of downturn in the economy I urge another publisher to start a paper in Anchorage…
    You know – one that won’t SLANT THE NEWS to appease politics or business…too bad for ADN…bye bye now!

  8. Mo says:

    I have a better idea. Toss the $80 towards Mudflats instead.

  9. John says:

    “Alaska’s largest city deserves a functioning, viable daily paper”. And someday I hope we will have one again. But they will have to hire actual reporters, and pay them to stay late at public meetings, and interview people and ask tough questions, and do some fact checking.

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