New owner gambles on print,
forces readers to pay for content online
Community Sports Editor Jeremy Balan, Photo courtesy Jeremy Balan
TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Jeremy Balan was in his third week of employment as community sports editor for Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley at the Orange County, CA, Register on May 9. He began work there on April 22.
“I am very excited,’ he said in an interview that day. “It is vibrant here. I have not been in a newsroom like this before.”
Balan, who served as Editor In Chief of the student newspaper at Pasadena City College, the Courier, in 2008-09, is lucky indeed.
For he is participating in a bold experiment underway at the Register, a gamble by new owner Aaron Kushner, that a huge investment in print – and forcing readers to pay for online content – will pay off.
Everyone in the newspaper industry is watching closely. If Kushner’s strategy works, it’ll show the way for every other daily newspaper publisher in the country.
The paywall readers encounter when trying to access content at the Orange County (CA) Register online site. © SGE, Inc.
AS KEN DOCTOR of the Neiman Journalism Lab noted on April 3 in The newsonomics of the Orange County Register’s contrarian paywall “Aaron Kushner and Co. are bucking the emerging conventional wisdom around paywalls and trying new twists on some popular ideas.”
Among the ideas are forcing readers to pay for online content (They get seven days free). See the image of the screen readers get when trying to access the OC Register web site).
Early indications are that Kushner has a winning idea.
In our chat, Sports Editor Balan also related how a recent Monday issue of the Register, traditionally the slowest day of the week for daily newspapers and abandoned by more than a dozen major dailies, was about 83 pages worth.
That’s bigger than the Los Angeles Times!
What that means is that Kushner’s gamble is paying off. The size of the paper depends entirely on advertising; if the advertisers are coming even for the Monday paper, the least-read one of the week, then Kushner’s investment in print is beginning to gain traction.
ACCORDING TO ANDREW BEAUJON at Poynter, when Kushner bought the Register from struggling Freedom Communications last summer, he got with it Freedom’s remaining six dailies: The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo.; The Sun of Yuma, Ariz.; The Desert Dispatch of Barstow, Calif.; The Porterville (Calif.) Recorder; the Victorville, Calif., Daily Press; and the Marysville, Calif., Appeal-Democrat.
Writing for Gannet’s USA Today on Feb. 12, Rem Rieder asked: “What does Aaron Kushner know that no one else does?”
The answer came just six paragraphs down.
“There are very few businesses we believe matter more than news,” Kushner said in a telephone interview,” according to Rieder. “While the field is “extremely difficult and challenging,” Kushner believes the mission outweighs the difficulties. He stresses his involvement is a ‘long-term commitment.’”
It had better be. Since the dawn of the internet age, daily newspapers have been giving their valuable content away free online. Whenever anyone get’s something for free, that is how much they think it is worth: nothing!
The New York Times began the long, arduous process of teaching its readers that content has value more than a year ago.
Public Editor Margaret Sullivan gave us a progress report on Jan. 19 in here column, “A milestone behind, a mountain ahead.”
“In 2012, something remarkable happened at The Times. It was the year that circulation revenue — money made from people buying the paper or access to its digital edition — surpassed advertising revenue,” Sullivan reported.
Here are some of the stories Jeremy Balan wrote in his first three weeks on the job at the Orange County (CA) Register. © SGE, Inc.
IN A NOTE TO READERS atop the piece, she said: “You matter. And you matter now more than ever before.”
Clearly, to anyone who follows the daily newspaper business, it is quite clear who will – or won’t – save it from extinction.
The readers will save it. But it won’t be an easy task. Both The New York Times and the O. C. Register have an enormous task – requiring mountains of cash – ahead. They, and others who wish to survive this existential threat, have to patiently educate their readers that content has value. This will not happen overnight, but at least we might be seeing the end of the beginning, if not the beginning of the end.
MY FORMER STUDENT, (read one of his first Register stories here Warning: it’s behind the paywall) at this time the only person I have endorsed for anything on LinkedIn, is along for the ride … and enjoying it.
“There is life here,” he said in our chat. “It is not like the other newsrooms where everyone is depressed. There are our new people coming every week.”
Commenting on the product of his new employer, Balan said: “It is a great paper. It is not like so many other papers full of Associated Press wire filler.”
Alas, that’s about all that’s left in some newspapers that land on my neighbor’s doorsteps every morning (I look at the page one headlines when I take Roxy, my dog, for her morning constitutional.)
“I am very happy to be here after being frustrated for a couple of months looking for a gig,” Balan said. “I really couldn’t be happier, though. I’m basically writing about whatever I want (as long as it relates to sports in the communities I cover) and I’m living across the street from the beach in Long Beach. Could be worse.”