Saturday, August 08, 2009

Overby says newspapers should charge for online content; sets goal of million Newseum visitors/yr.

Rural newspaper publishers who have been recluctant to put all or much of their news content online, for fear of losing print circulation, are looking smarter than most of their metropolitan counterparts, who are moving toward charging for online material. Last night a leading figure in journalism said the future of the craft depends on newspapers charging for news on the Web instead of giving it away, and they can do that successfully.

“A free press does not mean free news. The survival of the press as we know it depends on people paying for it,” Freedom Forum President and CEO Charles Overby said as he accepted an award from the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, meeting in Boston.

Overby said newspapers are the only medium putting substantial resources into investigative reporting and accountability journalism, but made “a disastrous decision” about 10 years ago to put their material online without charge. He noted a recent Annenberg Public Policy Center survey that found 22 percent of respondents had stopped a subscription to a publication because they could get it free online.

Publishers now realize they can’t survive without revenue from online readers, Overby said, but wonder if those readers will be willing to pay for what they have been getting for free. “I believe the trend can be reversed,” he said, as long as readers see substantive value in the material for which they must pay. He cited the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which charges for online access and has seen its circulation grow.

Some other publishers have announced plans to charge for online content, or consideration of such plans. “The future of newspapers, and I would say journalism as we know it, hangs in the balance,” Overby told the journalism educators at a dinner in the Sheraton Boston Hotel.

The journalism-schools group gave Overby its Gerald M. Sass Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism and Mass Communication. The group is meeting in conjunction with the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, usually the largest journalism convention in the U.S.

Overby is also CEO of the Newseum in Washington, funded by the Freedom Forum. He said the question he most gets asked is, “How’s the Newseum doing?” His answer: “The Newseum is doing great,” with 700,000 visitors the first year, but “We’re not satisfied.”

He announced a goal: “I want to say for the first time publicly tonight that we want to have a million people come to the Newseum each year. It’s going to take us three to four years to do that.”

The key audience, Overby said, is young people – “that next generation who hasn’t made up their minds about the press. … We believe in good times and bad the Newseum can stand as a beacon for free press, not as a shrine, but to show how the press works, warts and all.”


Howard Owens said...

Dear small town newspaper publishers, please listen to Charles Overby.

BRATCH said...

I beg to differ. I work for a weekly newspaper. The reason why newspapers are struggling with the internet is because they haven't figured out a strategy to generate revenue with it outside of charging for online content.

Most put everything online or nothing online. Meaning they either cut their own throats or are too scared to do anything.

I used to read my local daily newspaper online religiously, now they charge for their news online and I read neither the print nor online versions.

The problem newspapers have is they think more with their wallets than with their journalistic sense.

Question-- Which deserves to be online AND in print: Little Timmy's 6th birthday party photo and the related story about how much fun he had OR the story about the elected officials that violated the open meetings laws?

The internet is simply another way newspapers can 1) get the news out to the readers they serve and 2) more easily communicate with the readers they serve.

Newspapers make money off of advertising. You can sell advertising on the internet and keep track of how many times readers have actually looked at any advertisement you have sold.

I wish I could back up my claims with hard evidence of how successful my newspaper's web site is, but my editor and I can't convince our general manager to do anything with our web site.

That is the biggest problem with going online. Not doing it, but getting the business men and women running most newspapers to get on board with the journalists that make them their money.

Anonymous said...

I really doubt that anyone will pay for online news. As I point out in my blog , free alternatives are available, and users will switch to that. Although, I guess that it might work for small-town newspapers, who can provide news that isn't anywhere else.