Lee Newspapers websites in Montana putting up metered paywalls

News reached me tonight — via KTVQ’s Twitter feed, of all places — that the Billings Gazette and other Lee Newspapers in the state (perhaps elsewhere, for all I know) are going to a metered paywall model for their websites.

(I especially like the part of the KTVQ story where they point out that, hey, their online content is still free, oh, and they have mobile apps.)

The details of the new paywall are on the Billings Gazette site. Basically, readers get 20 pages for free per month before they must pay. You can read all about the prices if you like — what will count toward your total, what won’t. I really don’t care, since I won’t be paying.

I did notice this one little gem in the paywall description, though:

A reader who clicks on a news story registers one page view. If the reader then clicks to read comments that accompany that story, she logs another page view. This reader will register two page views — one for the story, one for the string of comments.

Though our website runs on the same software as the Gazette’s, they have chosen to put reader comments on a separate tab, whereas ours are at the bottom of the articles. This now conveniently allows them to count an extra pageview whenever a non-paid reader wants to see the comments.

Want to bet the number of comments on their site drops?

Well, it was going to drop anyway. That’s what paywalls do: They trade audience for money. Even the metered paywall, which to my mind is the most sensible of all the paywall options out there, will kill off a portion of a news site’s Web traffic.

Editors and accountants will hope the audience will bounce back in a year or so. A lot of sites that I’ve read about experience this bounce back, some almost to previous traffic levels, but there is always some damage to the paper’s prominence and reputation online.

I would be lying if I said there aren’t discussions in our corporation about paywalls. Some Pioneer papers are even testing paywall models, including a metered approach similar to what the Gazette is doing. The results of those tests are not yet in.

The thing to be careful about is the thing I found funny about KTVQ’s reporting on the Gazette paywall. The television news is a competitor. Sure, their format does not allow for the same in-depth reporting that the printed word allows, but they compete for advertising dollars in our communities.

KTVQ, in particular, is a heck of a news station. They do a great job, and with the influx of advertising money that will likely leave Lee papers in the state (Since fewer people will be going to their sites to see the ads, those Lee ads will be less useful to companies.), they’ll be doing an even better job, and I’m sure all the CBS stations in the state will benefit.

Oh, well. Competition’s fun! Right?


Goodbye, Google Labs, and thanks for all the fish

I’m a little behind this story. Blame it on going to the gym at night after work and after the kids are in bed rather than sitting down and being a good blogger. Still, I’m betting there are a few of you out there who haven’t heard that a significant part of Google’s soul is dying.

Perhaps that’s melodrama, but the fact remains that Google is shutting down Google Labs, the place where the company’s engineers experimented and let the public play with the results of their experiments.

In many cases, the company says, this will mean ending Labs experiments. Others will be folded into existing Google products.

If you’re feeling particularly wistful, there are a number of ‘farewell Labs’ slideshows floating around the Web, including this one from the MIT Technology Review.

Ennis and Big Sky to see better Internet service from $70M broadband loan

A $70 million federal loan to expand rural broadband in northern Montana will also improve Internet service for people in Big Sky and Ennis, an official with 3 Rivers Telephone Cooperative said Thursday.

The USDA Rural Utilities Service announced yesterday that the Fairfield-based cooperative will receive a $70 million loan to install 1,700 miles of fiber-optic cable and upgrade buildings and equipment in the Great Falls area.

But the company also has about 5,000 customers in Big Sky and Ennis who will see upgrade equipment and faster Internet speeds, said interim 3 Rivers general manager Mike Henning.

“We’re going to upgrade our electronics to state-of-the-art electronics” in Big Sky and Ennis, Henning said. “A lot of the exchanges where we’re building fiber to the home, some of them are close to 30 or 40 years old.”

Currently, customers in those areas have access to download speeds of about 6 megabits per second, Henning said. The upgrades would push that somewhere to the 40 megabit to 50 megabit range.

Work on the upgrades will start this fall and is expected to take up to five years.

The 3 Rivers loan is part of a batch of eight rural broadband loans announced Wednesday by the RUS totaling $192 million.

The money comes from the RUS’s Telecommunication Infrastructure Loan Program and is part of a budgeted $690 million investment. It is in addition to the $3.5 billion in rural broadband funding the RUS awarded as part of the federal stimulus.

Chronicle reporters join Twitter

Yesterday, I assigned homework to the reporting staff at the Chronicle: Get signed up for a Twitter account by the end of the day, follow the newspaper’s account and send out your first tweet.

The staff responded admirably. Those with dormant Twitter accounts revived them. Those without accounts started them, including our resident Luddite, Gail Schontzler, who inaugurated her Twitter account with this:


Later that evening, she went on to break news of Maya Angelou’s upcoming appearance at Montana State University via Twitter, hours before we got the same news up on our website. For her breakthrough efforts, she won one of our paper’s coveted Digi awards.

It’s good to see the staff embracing Twitter. Being able to use it is a core skill for journalists these days, and it was about time we got our newsroom on board.

Now, to encourage them to keep on tweeting, I encourage you to follow them on Twitter. You can find all of the Chronicle tweeps listed on Twitter. Subscribe to the list and then, for good measure, subscribe to each of the reporters too.

Showing some digital initative

Our company, like all newspaper companies, is playing a game of catch-up with the Web, and for the past two years or so, we have been limping along with a corporate initiative called Digital Now, an effort to boost our lagging efforts on the digital front.

The limping appears to be a thing of the past.

We had a visit last week, right before I headed out for vacation, from the Digital Now leader from corporate, who asked everyone in the building questions about how digital is inserting itself into the daily routine. Interviews spanned from the advertising department to the newsroom to IT. Said Digital Now leader made it clear that our corporation is very interested in making the Web a priority — money is involved, which makes it easier for any company to be genuinely interested in something — and that we needed to find real ways to make digital a part of our routine post haste.

Feedback was given, and this morning, a copy of the DN leader’s report found its way to my inbox. My name was mentioned far more than I am comfortable with in that report.

The report’s author is concerned that I am too much the center of digital initiatives at the paper. Well, it is part of my nebulous job description, but I see his point. He’s right when he worries in the report that if I disappeared tomorrow, a good portion of the paper’s digital efforts would vanish with me.

Corporate has made it clear they don’t want me doing it “alone” anymore, and I admit that I have been a poor teacher in those regards. No more. As soon as I get back from vacation on Wednesday, I will begin to delegate and spread awareness of digital media and the tools we have available among the reporters and other editors.

It will mean training and asking the reporters to do things that our newsroom staff has never been asked to do before. It will likely mean a change in workflow and how things get done in the newsroom. It will likely require quite a bit of time, effort and commitment from a lot of people.

I can’t guarantee it will work or, if it does, that it will work well. But I’m hopeful.

Why do I mention all this internal business to you, dear readers? Well, I hope that you’ll help me in another regard.

There are so many digital tools and methods of storytelling out there, from interactive maps to timelines to podcasts to videos to infographics. Many of these would look great on the Web, and I am more than happy to add them to our repertoire. There are just two problems: Finding just the right storytelling method and finding just the right story to use those methods on.

So here’s what I ask of you:

  • What digital storytelling methods work best for you? Plain text articles? Maps? Databases? Games? How can we present news in a way that will be useful and enjoyable to you?
  • What are the stories out there in the Chronicle’s coverage area that could stand to be told using a digital approach? Think creatively here. I’m looking for any and all ideas and your thoughts about novel ways to tell those stories. I’m open to anything.

Post replies in the comments, or send me a line at [email protected] Thanks!

PS: Bonus question

What sort of interaction would you like to see with our reporters? Would you follow public figure pages on Facebook if we started them? On Twitter? Google+? Something else? How can we make the reporters more than just bylines?

Parody Twitter accounts surface in Rehberg-Tester senate race

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I can already tell that the coming election season is going to be a fun one. After all, in addition to the normal slate of scandals and issues, candidates on both sides of the aisle will be dealing with the fallout of the debt ceiling crisis — which threatens to, in my uneducated opinion, throw the entire election for a loop.


The reason for this post, though, is something I noticed thanks to a random reply on Twitter the other day. It would appear that the mudslingers and satirists in the race for one of Montana’s senate seats are already hard at work creating parody Twitter accounts with which to speak their political minds.

That’s right. Head on over to Twitter right now and check out @JonTestercles and @denny_Teaberg. Both are about equally crude in terms of their parodies, though I’d give the edge to the Rehberg satirist. Both have been tweeting up a storm lately, replying to Montana journalists such as Marnee Banks, Mike Dennison, John S. Adams and our own Ted Sullivan.

A few good tweets so far:

Check them out. I’m sure there will be more parody accounts as the election season wears on, but these are the first I’ve spotted. If you’re hip to any more, make sure to post links in the comments.

Chronicle starts newsroom blog

One of the very first goals I set when I came on board as the Web editor at the Chronicle was to start a newsroom blog to give readers a bit of an inside look at how the paper gets put out every day.

Cut to the point: We now have one.

Our new assistant managing editor, Ted Sullivan, has volunteered to man the blog and post regular updates several times a week, cluing readers in on stories we’re working on, explaining decisions we’ve made and fishing for new story ideas. I’m sure he’s got even more in store for readers than that too. We’ll just have to see where he takes it. I’m confident.

A blog of this type is important for a newspaper to have, I think. Most people have no idea how the newspaper gets put together every day. When the tour groups come through the Chronicle, they are most interested in the newsroom. When our managing editor gives speeches for community groups, the questions he gets asked afterward are almost all about the process — how we do our jobs.

Newsroom blogs help explain that, which satisfies the public’s curiosity. Also — and importantly — they make the newspaper more transparent. In a time when confidence in the news media is low, the best way to win the public’s trust is to let them see how we put the news together. If readers can see that, then, even if they disagree with any perceived bias in a story, at least they can understand how that particular story came out the way it did.

I hope Ted takes on some of these deeper questions and discussions in his blog. As I said, it’s early, and we’ll see what direction he takes it. No matter what he writes, I know it will be entertaining and worth reading — after all, the guy’s a new media reporting master. He’s got this blogging thing down.

Also, Ted’s looking for ideas and inspiration. Check out the blog and leave him some comments to let him know what you think and what you think he should be writing about.

New Netflix prices drive the Internet crazy

Netflix logo

File this one under things people probably don’t have a right to be upset about. Netflix announced yesterday new prices and new subscription plans for its DVD and streaming products.

Previously, Netflix offered a plan that gave you unlimited DVDs mailed to your home during the month (one at a time, I believe?) and unlimited streaming for $9.99. Now, the company is splitting the DVD and streaming plans so that you have to subscribe to each one individually. There is no more saving money by subscribing to both at the same time.

The new cost for the same products listed above: $15.98, or $7.99 for each service.

This has caused an uproar.

Here are a few of the comment complaints from beneath the blog post, just to pick three popular ones. (I’m sure by now the reasoning has been repeated ad nauseum on the comment thread.

I think you should fire your marketing department. Anyone that comes up wit ha 60% price increase scheme and forgets to NOT include even a minimal increase to the service or content at the same time to distract, confuse, bamboozle, or lie to your customers is just stupid.

The reason all of your “loyal customers” are still renting DVDs is because your selection of movies to stream kind of sucks. It’s nice to have the option to turn on a movie when you want, not having to wait for shipping, but until you start offering movies that people actually want to see through the streaming site this change in your pricing is a TERRIBLE deal. You will lose a lot of customers due to this.

Netflix…you suck. You should have at least offered a discount for customers who choose to combine both streaming and DVD-by-mail options. And yes, there are still those of us who value having the physical DVD on hand, so I don’t appreciate your passive aggressive attempt towards pressuring your customers to opt for streaming-only viewing, which, in this case, serves only to inflate both your own pockets and those of corporate Hollywood, while taking away much-needed revenue from the U.S. Postal Service and not giving your loyal customers any added value with an inordinate increase in rates. Furthermore, since we all know that some films are only available via one delivery method, you’re essentially giving your customers an ultimatum–one that I’m not willing to accept. Thus, I shall present my last words to you: “Hasta la vista, baby!”

And so on.

Here’s what I know: It’s expensive to send DVDs through the mail, and streaming is relatively cheap. It’s in Netflix’s interest to get more streaming customers because they will be able to streamline their operations. Also, in case you missed the boat somewhere along the line, barring an EMP attack on the Western Hemisphere, streaming media is the future.

Finally, and here’s the kicker: Netflix is a business and can charge whatever it pleases for its services. There is no law obligating people to purchase Netflix memberships. If you don’t the company’s prices, you always have the option of not buying their products anymore.

Perhaps I’m too hard nosed, though. What do you think of the new Netflix prices?