News Virginian Rethinks Internet Strategy

The Waynesboro News Virginian has started doing something clever, Lindsay Barnes writes for The Hookthey’re saving their best stories for their print publication. Though a few years ago it made sense for a publication to drive traffic to its website, plummeting online advertising revenues, along with circulation rates for print publications, have made it a better idea for a publication to use its website to promote its print publication. In today’s paper, they promote a story about “sexually explicit lyrics” contained within a song played at a middle school dance, cutting off the story after the fourth paragraph and encouraging readers to “pick up The News Virginian today at an area newsstand to get the full story.” The story is a print-only exclusive, until tomorrow, when the full story goes up online. If it goes well for them, Progress managing editor McGregor McCance says they might try it, too.

Media General has their publications do a lot of dumb things, but this isn’t one of them. It’s actually a sensible strategy, because it drives readers to where the advertising (and copy-sales) dollars are. This might have been a foolish move a few years ago, but now newspapers are in such dire financial straits that it seems well worth a try. We do this at VQR, putting about half of the contents of each issue online and accessible to the non-subscribing public, and putting only the beginnings of the rest of the stories online, with promotions to read the rest by picking up a copy. The more time passes, the more of each issue is available online. After five years we open up everything to the public. Here’s hoping it works out for the News Virginian.

9 thoughts on “News Virginian Rethinks Internet Strategy”

  1. The story is a print-only exclusive, until tomorrow, when the full story goes up online.

    A 24-hour delay isn’t enough to make me go buy a newspaper. If it’s a HUGE story, somebody else will carry it online. If it’s not, I can wait a day.

    Though I give the News Virginian some credit for thinking outside the box, I’m thinking they would have to go so far as to delay the content by a week or even forever to drive a significant number of people to the paper.

    I’m wondering what would happen if they teased the story online and then had an online subscription model to read more? For me, I don’t care to pay for a paper subscription. It’s just a big waste of paper in my view. But, if the News Virginian teased the first several paragraphs of every major story and then only subscribers could view the rest, I might actually become a subscriber… maybe.

  2. A question though, Waldo: as a blogger, would you link to an online story that wouldn’t be available until the next day? Especially if the same story was online at another local site?

    I go back and forth about whether this is a good idea. It might drive people to buy the paper, though to me as a Charlottesville resident there’s almost no story worth driving a distance to purchase a Waynesboro paper. I might look for it online the next day, or I might forget. My suspicion is that if the Progress did the same thing, it would hurt rather than help in that many people would simply refuse to buy the paper for one reason or another, and its news would become even more irrelevant in the community. Especially with local TV stations putting content online as it happens.

    If I were the editor of a small newspaper in these times, one of my goals would be to get my paper’s content used in public dialogue. Producing a paper in the information age that’s only available in print version, even if there’s just a 1-day delay in getting the content online, seems like a backwards move. The attention span of the general public is just too short for that. I’m not convinced that this “you must be registered to post a comment” business gets Media General anywhere either.

  3. You’re right, Megan—this is not good for bloggers, who will end up promoting another story. But I’m guessing that Waynesboro is a market where far fewer people get their news from blogs than in Charlottesville. And even in Charlottesville I’d be awfully interested to see those numbers. My suspicion is that us bloggers aren’t as important as we’d like to think we are. :)

    On that note, I’m actually hopping in the car now to give a talk to the blogging reporters at the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. I think I’ll have to bring this up!

  4. You’re running into the problem the New York Times had with TimesSelect. Click or search around and you can find the same info for free.
    Or else there’s so much information out there for free, you don’t notice you’re missing this info that sits behind the wall for a day or two.
    I’m sure they are watching the newsstand sales to see if highlighting the stories brings a few more sales.

  5. You’re running into the problem the New York Times had with TimesSelect. Click or search around and you can find the same info for free.

    In Waynesboro? Nah. Remember, they’re just holding back their one prime story of the day, the thing that they got a jump on. It’s too small of a market for anybody else to have the story.

    Or else there’s so much information out there for free, you don’t notice you’re missing this info that sits behind the wall for a day or two.

    That’s possible, but I think people discriminate between local and national news. If I only get national news for a day, and miss local news, I feel like I’m missing something, because I don’t know what’s going on at home.

    I’m not saying that this approach is going to work for the News Virginian, and I’m not saying that it’s universalizable. Just that it’s a good idea, and that I think it might for them.

  6. personally, a story about sexually explicit lyrics in a song at a school dance isn’t enough to make me want to read the story, let alone buy a newspaper. besides, apparently if i did want to read it, all i’d have to do is wait a day. unless a) they start making information i must now immediately for-pay, or b) they eliminate the practice of posting the story online, i don’t see a need in ever buying their newspaper again.

    sorry, this isn’t clever at all; it’s a desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable. what the paper needs to do is go strictly digital (or at least limit the number of papers they print. if avg. circulation is only 20,000, then just print 21,000). the staff should focus on posting stories online right away rather than waiting for a midnight deadline to send it off to a printer so it won’t be bought. they can still go through the proper editing channels, but if it’s cleared for “print” at 6:13 p.m., then they should post it online at 6:13 p.m. if it’s ready at 10:47 a.m., post it online at 10:47 a.m. use the full resources of twitter, facebook, blogs/user comments, youtube, etc. have reporters or photographers take a video camera with them so some video can be posted online. the future of print/tv journalism is for an outlet to be the unique source for information that’s hyper-local and super-accessible, and the internet is the way to go (but they can still do the print or tv part on a smaller scale, for example just a sunday paper and special editions, or just 5-minute tv news updates in the morning and only a 6 and 10pm evening newscast).

  7. That all sounds neat, but what you describe is a recipe for rapid bankruptcy. Remembering that a) internet advertising brings in virtually no revenue these days (and even less for local audiences, illogically) and b) very few people are willing to pay to subscribe to a publication online, how do you envision paying the reporters who will gather this news that’s to be made public at 10:47 AM?

  8. Cvillenewser, much of what you describe is already being done by the Progress; at least some of their stories (usually the breaking news) are posted as soon as they’re through editing and updated during the day. They’ve been doing that increasingly for the past few years. In terms of profitability, it doesn’t seem to be working.

  9. Posting breaking news online isn’t about profitability, but holding the line on staying competitive. And just barely, at that.

    This belief some newspapers have that they can force readers with established information consumption habits into buying a printed edition is the ash heap upon which the newspaper industry is dying. To appease shareholders, newspapers have eviscerated their reporting staffs, leaving almost no one to produce anything resembling quality journalism. The print news hole is almost non-existent. Readers aren’t stupid; they see this and they are not buying. A couple of hundred extra papers sold on one day might thrill a circulation manager for about five minutes; what about the next day, and the day after that?

    Because of their short-sightedness, newspapers cannot do what has to be done to attract readers, which is to produce quality journalism that matters to their local audiences. The old platform for delivering that quality journalism is gone, replaced by online. Imagine if a paper like Waynesboro had poured its resources into reporting rather than propping up a print shell of itself. Would advertising revenue be up, or down? It’s hard to say, but my thought is that if newspapers had done that, the landscape might be very different.

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