New strategy: Berate bloggers, tell online readers to buzz off

I’m not sure where newspaper execs are getting their PR advice these days, but whoever/whatever it is needs to be fired. The print news sector has put out some head-shaking proclamations this week – all of which have a common theme of holier-than-thou insults directed at online news consumers.

First up is the absolutely appalling handling of a new business model by the Tallahassee Democrat. The paper is going to start charging for news online – which the publisher finally gets around to saying on the second page after a long-winded, self-congratulatory monologue.

The column says:

It no longer seems fair to have only half of our readers pay for content while the other half reads for free online. This is about changing how we do business, not simply putting up a paywall on digital content.

Unless the TD happens to charge quite a bit for their print edition, the print subscribers aren’t paying for that journalism any more than the digital readers. They’re merely paying to have it delivered to their homes on expensive paper. That payment isn’t covering the cost of the reporting and editing. More on that later.

Aside: The same column that says online readers aren’t paying for content is unnecessarily paginated into three pages in order to rack up page views and generate online ad revenue. Talk about adding insult to injury.

But at least the paper’s publisher and editor were only trying to pull a fast one over on digital readers. A columnist at the paper upped the ante, going so far as to equate online readers with shoplifters.

He also seems to espouse the belief that the paper’s journalists are apparently above criticism, especially from the criminals who consume their news online. I won’t bother excerpting, as the entire column is essentially about this point.

Both pieces not only reflect complete distaste for online readers, they also seem to be a bit behind the times. The production of journalism is paid for by advertising revenue, which has been largely generated by printed ads in the past (hence why these guys want to keep readers there).

I suppose the Democrat must have missed the news that online advertising will soon be surpassing print. Maybe they’d be better off finding new ways to market themselves to online readers to keep more eyeballs on their site.

That brings us to the other newspaper industry wishful thought of the week: The classic “we’re the only trusted source for news” mantra.

McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt told the Tri-City Herald a bedtime story about how “real” journalists are far more trustworthy than bloggers.

It is often impossible to know if anyone has verified the material that’s on the internet or whether anyone is held responsible for rumors, misinformation or outright libel.

That uncertainty is working in newspapers’ favor. People are turning to newspaper websites as a trusted source.

I’m not sure where Pruitt got his facts, which the paper reiterated without any backing up, because they’re quite flawed. I guess those online types aren’t the only ones who don’t back up what they hear from biased sources with real reporting. (Zing)

Thankfully, the Herald’s coverage area has blogger Matt McGee to set the record straight – with links to back up his claims. As my boss, Steve Buttry, asks in his post on this back-and-forth, “Which is the stronger example of journalism?”

This standoffish game has to stop if newspapers want to stick around. As these guys are out there turning away online readers and dismissing potential partners, news startups like TBD are out there ready to pick them up. And we aren’t alone.

Scoff if you want, but readers do, in fact, trust bloggers and news via social media more than you think. As the online medium continues to grow – and today’s young people continue to grow as news consumers – this New Frontier will become News as We Know It. Don’t newspapers want to be a part of that?

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