The Times takes on Barry Nolan v. Bill O’Reilly

Keith Olbermann

Brian Stelter of the New York Times weighs in on the matter of Barry Nolan versus Bill O’Reilly, quoting me while so doing. Here is what I wrote for the Boston Phoenix about Comcast’s firing of Nolan in 2008, and here is Terry Ann Knopf’s recent Columbia Journalism Review piece on Nolan’s wrongful-termination suit against Comcast.

Comcast, you may recall, fired Nolan from his talk show on CN8 after he organized a protest of a local Emmy award for O’Reilly. Comcast could soon find itself to be the proud owner of NBC Universal, which would put the company in the awkward position of doing business with other networks (including O’Reilly’s employer, Fox News) as a cable provider and competing with them as a content provider.

Which is to ask: Will MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann be the next Barry Nolan? Comcast president David Cohen and Olbermann both tell Stelter no. I hope they’re right.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model

Christopher Mayer

(Note: If the top of Media Nation looks mangled, please hit reload.)

I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed. Yesterday’s announcement that the Boston Globe will move most of its content to a subscription-based website sometime in the second half of 2011 shows that Globe executives know where their strengths are and that they’re prepared to think innovatively to protect those strengths.

The Globe’s dilemma is that it has an enormously successful free website, Boston.com, that is quite different from the paper itself. Start charging for access to Boston.com, and many of those 5 million unique visitors a month would vanish.

The solution: keep Boston.com free, but split off the Globe’s content into a separate, paid site called BostonGlobe.com, currently a free subsite. The decision raises lots of questions. Perhaps the biggest is how much free Globe content will be posted on Boston.com, and whether Boston.com will remain as popular once it has to stand on its own.

Still, it’s a far more interesting idea than the metered model embraced by the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., which rolled it out at the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester recently and which will give it a go at the flagship paper sometime next year. Under the metered model, readers can access so many articles for free each month, after which they have to pay. It might work for the T&G and the Times, but it would have been deadly for Boston.com.

Yesterday I conducted an e-mail interview with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, which he graciously agreed to do because I still can’t take notes. (Although it’s getting better. I’ve got a pillow propped up and am typing two-handed now for the first time since my accident.) Our unedited conversation follows. I’ve got a few closing thoughts after the jump.

Q: The metered model seemed to be the way the New York Times Co. was going. Why did you choose something different?

A: We’ve said all along that each organization would need to come up with a custom-made approach that takes into account unique market factors. We felt this was the best course for us, given the fact that we have two strong brands and essentially two different types of users of our Boston.com site. We have the opportunity to build a free site and a subscription-based site, and based upon extensive research, that emerged as the best option for us.

Q: The advantage of the metered model is that you’re not entirely cut off from the great conversation that’s taking place on blogs and in social media. Are you concerned about breaking a big story and not having as much impact as you should because people can’t link to you? Please address what Clay Shirky said about the importance of online sharing with respect to the Globe’s reporting on the pedophile-priest story.

A: We don’t intend to be cut off from the conversation. We haven’t announced, or even worked out, all the details of what will be on which site. But we can envision that some full-text Globe stories will be available on the free site. I suspect we would have put many of the initial priest sex-abuse stories on the free site because that Spotlight Team investigation was viewed as clear public service reporting. In the future, we’ll make those judgments as appropriate. Continue reading “Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model”

For the Globe, a hybrid paid-content model

As you may have heard, the Boston Globe today finally made its long-anticipated announcement on placing some of its online content behind a paywall. I think publisher Chris Mayer’s decision to offer a free Boston.com site and a paid BostonGlobe.com is interesting. I’ve got some questions. I’ve got concerns.

I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Meanwhile, Ralph Ranalli at Beatthepress.org and Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli have some worthwhile thoughts.

Boston Globe edges closer to paywall

The Boston Globe will soon start charging for online content, Eric Convey reports in the Boston Business Journal. As with plans being developed by its corporate cousin the New York Times, the Globe’s paywall will be deliberately porous so that bloggers and their readers can share a certain number of stories each month. Heavy users, though, will be expected to cough up.

I predict, at best, very limited success — so limited that it may prove not worth doing. The Times Co. reported today that its revenue from print advertising and circulation continues to fall, but that online ad revenues are up by 14 percent compared to a year ago. Yes, the overall volume is lower, but online is where the growth is.

Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London lost between two-thirds and 90 percent of its online readers when it erected an admittedly more rigid paywall earlier this year. The Globe’s website, Boston.com, draws about 5 million unique visitors each month. The paywall could wind up alienating readers and advertisers alike.

I’d keep Boston.com free but get rid of the “Today’s Globe” section, which is a perfect replica of the print edition. Post most Globe stories to Boston.com, but maybe not all of them. Make sure readers get the message that the Globe and Boston.com are not the same. And reserve the full contents of the Globe itself for paid platforms — not just print, but mobile, iPad, Reader, Kindle and the like.

The Boston Herald already does a good job of differentiating its print and online editions. And the Globe has a greater opportunity, because the Herald is lagging in alternative electronic platforms.

More from Ralph Ranalli at BeatthePress.org, whose post alerted me to this story. Also, another Times Co. property, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, started charging for online content last month.

A celebration of non-profit journalism

Paul Bass. Yes, that's Linda McMahon in the background. Click on image for more photos.

Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon of Connecticut was there. So was New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. So were about 150 other friends of the New Haven Independent as the non-profit news site celebrated its fifth anniversary on Wednesday evening.

“It’s a powerful idea, which is that out-of-town corporations that could care less about us no longer own our news. They no longer control our news. We the people control the news,” Independent founder and editor Paul Bass told the crowd. (Click to hear Bass address the crowd.)

The party was held in the third-floor offices of La Voz Hispana de Connecticut, a Spanish-language newspaper where the Independent has use of a spare room. Bass was introduced by Norma Rodriguez-Reyes, publisher of La Voz, who also chairs the board of the Online Journalism Project, which publishes the Independent.

“At La Voz Hispana we’re very proud to have the New Haven Independent here with us, and we want to wish cien años — 100 years more,” Rodriguez-Reyes said, standing on a chair and holding aloft a glass of wine.

One of the goals was to unveil a voluntary subscription system that Bass hopes will make the Independent less dependent on foundation grants. Readers are being asked to pay $10 or $18 a month. As it turned out, though, money barely got a mention.

“We didn’t want people feeling like we got them in there, and then we were going to hit them up,” Bass told me afterwards, adding that many of the folks who showed up were already financial backers.

Was the party what Bass had expected?

“I guess,” he said. “Sorry, what am I supposed to say? Norma loves to throw parties. I hate parties.”

The party was also covered by the Yale Daily News and, of course, by the Independent.

Hyperlocal versus regional news in New Haven

Education reform and how it’s playing out in city schools. A long-awaited project to build sidewalks in a high-traffic area, delayed  because of the cost. The latest on a controversial plan to sell off 25 years’ worth of parking-meter revenue for a quick infusion of $50 million.

These are a few of the stories posted in late August by the New Haven Independent, a non-profit, online-only news organization.

As part of my research, I recently decided to take a look at every story that appeared in the Independent between Sunday, Aug. 22, and Saturday, Aug. 28, and compare them to what appeared in the New Haven Register.

Click here for a detailed breakdown of New Haven
coverage in the Independent and the Register

Not that the Independent and the Register should necessarily be thought of as competitors. The Register, a for-profit paper owned by the Journal Register Co., based in Yardley, Penn., covers not just New Haven but the surrounding area as well. On any given day, the Register publishes more stories from the suburbs than from the city. Much of the Independent’s intensely local neighborhood coverage is of the sort that the Register would not likely publish.

The Register is also a much larger enterprise, even online: its website received more than 158,000 unique visitors in July, according to Compete.com, whereas the Independent, with its city-focused readership, attracted somewhat less than 49,000. (Such numbers are inherently suspect. But they provide a decent basis for comparison, if not for overall readership.) And, of course, the Register’s website isn’t its primary distribution platform. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, paid circulation of the Register’s print edition is about 71,000 on weekdays and 81,000 on Sundays.

My goal was to list every story that appeared in the Independent for a week, and to compare them to the New Haven-only stories that appeared in the Register. Compiling a list of stories from the Independent was not difficult. Finding all the New Haven stories in the Register was somewhat more of a challenge, since I did not have access to the print edition. Continue reading “Hyperlocal versus regional news in New Haven”

In New Haven, seeking non-profit sustainability

The challenge for non-profit news sites is that national and local foundations may be willing to help them get off the ground, but at some point they want them to be self-sustaining. Will readers of a site like the New Haven Independent give money on a continuing basis — a model well-established in the world of public television and radio stations?

Independent founder and editor Paul Bass intends to find out. Late this afternoon he posted a fifth-anniversary message, asking readers to choose a voluntary subscription of $10 or $18 a month (or more) in order to support an operation that has grown to a nearly $500,000 annual budget with six full-time reporters, several part-timers, affiliated sites covering Branford and the Naugatuck Valley and a State House reporter. Bass writes:

Five years ago today, the New Haven Independent hit the net with a new idea: completely local multimedia online-only professional news reporting focused on city news and issues, with reporting used as a springboard for wide-ranging community discussion. Not a “newspaper.” Not a radio or TV news program. A journalism-driven online urban community….

Cities like New Haven are returning to the “good old days” of multiple local media outlets where readers can find news, weigh in, and obtain different takes on what’s happening at home. No longer can a corporate monopoly control and choke off the flow of news and debate in one community.

Unlike, say, WGBH or WBUR in Boston, the Independent serves a poor, largely minority urban community. Bass’ challenge is very different from that of a public broadcasting executive appealing to affluent, well-educated viewers and listeners.

The Independent will celebrate its fifth birthday at a party on Sept. 15. I plan to be there. It will be interesting to see how many people turn out (57 have already said via Facebook that they’re coming) — and what level of support Bass is able to attract as he begins his sixth year.

A corrupt proposal to save radio

The news in this Ars Technica story is so nutty that, frankly, I was reluctant to pass it on until I saw it in this morning’s New York Times. Yes, there are occasions when Media Nation still likes its MSM confirmation.

In case you haven’t heard, your friends at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have worked out a scheme that would require cell phones, personal digital assistants and other handheld devices to include FM radio.

This mind-boggling federal mandate would be part of a grand bargain under which broadcasters would pay performance royalties, ending an exemption that goes back to the earliest days of radio.

Nate Anderson of Ars Technica reports that the Consumer Electronics Association — yet another lobbying group, although in this case on the side of sanity — is “incandescent with rage.” In the Times, Joseph Plambeck writes that, according to phone-makers, smartphones that include FM chips will be bigger and chew through batteries more quickly.

More to the point, who wants radio on their smartphones? The only reason radio is still hanging on is that the ubiquitous, wireless Internet hasn’t come to your car yet. The idea that Congress could go along with this corrupt scheme to save a dying technology is somehow depressingly unsurprising. In a world of Pandora and streaming Internet audio, no one needs FM (or AM) radio.

I would love to see Steve Jobs frog-marched out of Apple headquarters for selling an iPhone without an FM chip. It would be great publicity for him.

If nothing else, this outrageous story should put the lie to the notion that large corporate interests care about free enterprise. When you think about how gingerly news executives have approached the idea of government subsidies for journalism, it’s quite remarkable that another segment of the media industry thinks nothing about demanding a federal bailout for its archaic, unwanted business.

Photo (cc) via Wikimedia Commons and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Telegram.com takes the paid-content plunge

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester began charging for online content today. It’s a move widely seen as a test run for the New York Times, which plans to start charging for Web access next year, and whose parent company also owns the T&G (as well as the Boston Globe).

The T&G model, explained in a memo from publisher Bruce Gaultney and editor Leah Lamson, is fairly complex, as the Times model reportedly will be. Here are the basics:

  • Print subscribers will have full access to Telegram.com for no additional charge.
  • Non-subscribers will be able to access up to 10 local stories per month without paying. But they will have to register.
  • Non-subscribers who wish to access more than 10 local stories will have to pay $14.95 per month or $1 for a day pass.
  • Some Web content will remain free, including breaking-news stories.

Will the plan succeed? It depends on your definition of success. It may bolster print circulation, or at least slow its decline. The tiered pricing system is clearly aimed at non-subscribers who make heavy use of the website. Anyone who’s thinking about dropping his print subscription will now have a good reason not to do so.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the T&G’s Monday-through-Friday circulation is about 70,000, and 81,000 buy the Sunday paper. Among other things, charging for Web access will allow management to count paying online readers in those numbers.

On the other hand, I doubt many people are going to fork over $14.95 a month to read Telegram.com without getting the paper. Even if the move bolsters the Telegram’s bottom line, the danger is that the website will wither. (According to Compete.com, the T&G’s website draws about 275,000 unique visitors each month. The T&G claims about 800,000. Measuring online traffic is notoriously difficult.)

I also don’t see how this amounts to a test run for the Times — the papers are too different. The T&G’s readership is almost entirely local, and I can’t imagine its website has ever been a major priority. The Times is a national paper whose website, NYTimes.com, with nearly 20 million unique vistors per month, is the most widely read newspaper.com in the country.

Yet the T&G may be better positioned to get away with this than the Times, which has any number of competitors for national and international news. There is little competition for news in Worcester and the surrounding area — although this does present an opportunity for an existing news organization to beef up its own free website.

Based on a sampling of the more than 300 comments to Gaultney and Lamson’s memo, it doesn’t seem that the T&G’s announcement has been well-received. Yet that’s a self-selecting group. I did like the comment from the reader who buys a copy on his way to work every morning and thus won’t get free Web access. Management needs to think about how to take care of good customers like him.

My prediction is that the move will be of limited benefit, but that it won’t look that way. Very few people will sign up for Web access, and print circulation will continue to decline — but the drop in print would be worse if the T&G hadn’t made this move.

Note: I spoke with WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) this morning about the T&G’s move. I’m not sure whether it made it on to the newscast, and it doesn’t seem to have been posted online yet.