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The Beachcomber embarks on a new path
The Beachcomber is making a change this week — a change that is, at once, on the industry’s leading edge and as commonsensical as they come.
We’re going to limit full access to our website’s content to those who subscribe.
In other words, subscribers will be able to go online any time they like and read our news stories, feature stories, sports stories and other content — just as they can and do now. But those who don’t subscribe will have only partial access. Breaking news stories, for instance, will be accessible to everyone online. So will obituaries, entertainment listings and sports stories. In-depth news and feature stories, however, won’t be. They’ll be sheltered behind what’s called a pay wall, accessible only to our subscribers.
The Beachcomber is not alone in the industry in making this change. A handful of papers in Washington and several across the country have instituted pay walls in the last year or so. Indeed, the nation’s leading newspaper, The New York Times, will begin charging for its online edition in January.
But we are in the vanguard of this significant shift. And we’re doing so because it makes inordinate sense: We’re asking that people pay for a product that costs money each week to produce. We’ve decided to not give it away for free anymore.
This is an issue that has been discussed and debated in journalistic circles for the last few years.
Newspapers, as anyone who’s paying attention to the industry knows, have struggled in recent years, trying to cover escalating production costs as revenues have declined. Craigslist has virtually eliminated the classified sections in newspapers. Advertisers, facing their own financial difficulties, have pulled back. And at many newspapers, circulation has fallen — in part, industry analysts surmise, because some readers have decided not to subscribe since they can get their news for free online.
And who can blame them? One analyst made this analogy: Why would you go into a Starbucks and buy a latte if the company delivers one to your home for free each day?
The situation has been different at The Beachcomber, where circulation has stayed steady and where the Internet has enabled us — like many community newspapers — to provide breaking news in a timely fashion.
At the same time, however, we need to safeguard what matters most in this equation: Our circulation base. We jeopardize that if we continue to give our product away for free.
As someone who loves newspapers, I’ve found it painful to watch our industry struggle. I felt heartsick when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer folded. I’ve watched good friends — talented writers and reporters — lose their jobs. I’ve also worried about what it means to a democracy when citizens increasingly get information from questionable sources — movies that take liberties with the truth, bloggers not skilled in gathering information, pseudo-journalists with political or financial agendas.
Yet I also see a resiliency in our industry. Newspaper publishers and editors are, in fact, finding their way through this changing landscape, curbing their costs while maintaining a commitment to the ideals that have long governed this important enterprise.
And so it is at The Beach-comber. We’re a viable newspaper, committed to journalistic excellence, and we intend to stay that way. Asking that people pay for our online product is just one more step in this storied journey.
— Leslie Brown is the editor of The Beachcomber.
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