Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, May 11, 2012

Courier 'paywall': Close but no cigar

'Flyover' window gives notice the paywall is in place.
Plainfielders who read the Courier online at will have noticed yesterday the little slider window above that pops up over a story when it is read.

What it means is that the long-expected 'paywall' is in place. I say close, but no cigar.

Casual readers will be allowed a certain number of 'free' articles, after which viewing will be blocked unless they subscribe to one of two options: all-digital (at $12/month) and home delivery of the dead-tree paper plus digital (several plans, beginning at $8/month).

You can watch a video of how the scheme works on the front page of the site.

Though the site has been jazzed up by the addition of smartphone and iPad formats, the real issue, to my mind at least, is the amount of local news that one is going to get to read.

There are still plenty of sources of 'free' news of statewide interest (the Ledger being but one); however, Plainfield stories have generally gotten much better and more in-depth coverage by the Courier -- thanks to reporter Mark Spivey -- than the Ledger.

So, the digital cost of $12.00/month appears to represent a considerable savings over buying the print edition on a daily basis for a cost of just about $30.00/month.

That is, until one takes into account that there is almost no coverage any more of city hall or school board matters, the bulk of Plainfield coverage being devoted to crime and disasters. Though we all know that gore sells papers, in the long run the issues of local governance and education are much more important for the community's information and well-being.

Then one has to weigh if an average of three or four Plainfield stories per week (which drops to maybe two or three per month if the crime items are factored out) is worth the cost.

It remains to be seen whether the self-submitted articles (like those of the Act IV theater group and the Crescent Singers' upcoming concert) are counted as being behind the paywall. If so, that would seem to me to defeat the purpose of letting folks put up their own publicity items.

One last kvetch: no indication is given (that I can see, anyway) of how many 'free' stories one can read before the portcullis drops, closing off access; the New York Times is ten/month and they tell you up front. It seems slightly unsportsmanlike to keep readers in the dark.

So, will you be ponying up for either of the two options?

I'm still on the fence.

Is 'hard' news about Plainfield worth $4 - $6 a shot?

Close, but no cigar.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Dan, your post got me to thinking. I just scanned our online archives and, for what it's worth, I wrote or co-wrote a total of 22 articles about Plainfield during the last month. It is true that many were about crime -- there has been a marked increase in violent incidents during that time, and I think the public deserves to know about it -- but those 22 pieces also included features about the city's Returning Heroes parade, a strike at JFK Hartwyck, the passing of Tiffany Corbett, Rasheed Abdul-Haqq's decision to run for City Council, and a pair of meaty articles apiece on the continuing PMUA and WBLS sagas. And it's funny you mentioned schools, because today I am doing a piece on the superintendent search. I think to suggest that the CN's coverage of Plainfield's civic affairs has suffered is inaccurate, and I think we are doing a good job despite considerable challenges when it comes to resources. Of course it is up to every individual reader to decide whether to subscribe, and I hope many will. But if they don't, I'm determined to make sure it wasn't because we weren't trying our best. -Mark

Bob said...

I don't think paying for this service will give people what they want. I've complained to the Courier for months that forcing people to have FaceBook accounts in order to make comments isn't in line with free speech. I won't be reading anything on line from the Courier. Too bad, I liked Mark's reporting.

Dan said...

Mark -- I don't mean to make you feel defensive, because I think you are a super reporter and give you credit for all the stories you are able to do.

But I do think that if things are compared to even when you first started covering Plainfield (when there actually was a 'beat') there are marked differences in the amount of ink (and conversely how thinly the reporting staff is spread out).

These are decisions that emanate from Gannett (and I suspect are pretty universally applied across the Gannett papers nationwide) and have to do with how corporate has decided to address the changes in the newspaper industry and not with any individual reporter's chops.

If you saw my previous piece on the paywall, you know I am skeptical this strategy will overcome the slide in circulation -- though I live to be proven wrong.

olddoc said...

I agree with Dan.E-news no matter what he form is no substitute for hard copy old fashion as it may be.

Years ago I was going to drop the CN when it was going through a previous "rag state", but Mark arrived and the paper renewed in depth local coverage. This latest change will probably kill any potential circulation. There are better sources for electronic news than the Courier, its life is dependent on being a community (ies) paper. More mama/papa stuff.