Bob Davis: A business model for journalism
Apr 14, 2013 | 4911 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I first started working in the newspaper business in the late 1980s, research took on an entirely different meaning than it does for the young reporters in The Star’s newsroom today. Back then, digging up court cases, ancient newspaper articles or obscure baseball statistics was a good way to kill several hours.

This sort of information was stored on paper in courthouse basements, libraries or dusty newspaper archive rooms. Finding exactly what you needed took time. Copying it required either pen and pad or a nearby copy machine.

And all this is assuming you knew precisely what you were looking for and that the keeper of these records would allow you access.

Times have changed.

Last week, when I looked for details on the 1988 Supreme Court case City of Lakewood v. Plain Dealer Publishing, I found scores of relevant sites that offered details of the decision, which favored the newspaper in this First Amendment matter.

A brief probe of The Star’s electronic archives produced an April 8, 1987, article reporting that an “Army-wide shortage of optometrists has prompted a reduction of those services at military hospitals for retirees and their dependents,” a development that meant “Fort McClellan may be particularly hard hit by the shortage.”

When I wondered about New York Yankees outfielder Roy White’s batting average in 1978, I simply typed a few key words into an online search engine and in an instant discovered he batted .269 in what would be the next-to-last season of a 15-year career.

This is a great part of working as a newspaper journalist in the 21st century. Information that once took hours to assemble can be gathered in seconds.

The Star can now deliver news in real-time any time. In the past two years we have vastly increased the amount of online updates posted throughout the day. And this trend will continue to expand. If you check at 8 in the morning, you’ll want to return in an hour or less to learn the latest.

The hard part for the newspaper industry is transitioning to a business model that keeps the lights on in newsrooms across the country. Print ads once footed the bill for good journalism. A stalled economy has tightened what large retailers spend on print advertising. And online advertising won’t completely make up the difference.

On Wednesday, The Star announced a new online-subscription plan that is part of this sweeping change in U.S. newspapers. The free-model of online is rapidly disappearing. An increasing number of newspapers, both large and small, require a subscription to read news articles online.

Creating the kind of journalism that has made The Anniston Star well-regarded nationally doesn’t come cheap. Somebody has to pay for it, though in our case we’re asking a small price to pay for access to the leading newsgathering organization in East Alabama.

“Paywall” is shorthand for this model. I’m no fan of the term. A wall is something that’s difficult to climb. Our new service is easy, really no different from purchasing music from iTunes or, to go old-school, dropping quarters in a newspaper rack and taking out a print edition. (By the way, I’ve yet to hear someone describe iTunes as a “music wall” or a newspaper rack as a “newspaper cage.”)

What The Star is selling is subscriptions to our digital content. Newspaper readers know what a subscription is — something you pay to have news delivered to your home. What’s happening with our website is the same — you pay a price to access The Star on your computer, your mobile phone, your tablet, and you can still have the print edition delivered to your home, as well. What a deal.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.
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