The morning paper revisited
“We’ve created a very strange situation for ourselves,” News Virginian editor and general manager Lee Wolverton said of the ongoing handwringing among us media moguls about what we need to do to get our industry back on track after a sustained period of losing print readers used to paying for the news to the Internet where people have come to expect information to be readily available for free.
“It’s really the equivalent of saying to somebody, You can drive to Burger King and pay for your sandwich, or we can bring it to your door and give it to you for free. And then the funny thing about our industry is, we’re all mystified as to why that isn’t working,” Wolverton said.
He’s hitting the nail on the head, of course. We give away for free today what we’re going to ask you tomorrow to give us 50 cents for. Not exactly the smartest way of doing business, but that’s where we are right now in news.
An effort being initiated among community newspapers in the Media General chain, including the News Virginian, could get things turned around in the right direction. The local product is called The News Virginian E-Paper, and what I’ve seen of it thus far comes across to me as a solid first-generation attempt to synthesize what we’re used to getting from print in terms of newspapers and what we might be able to expect from newspapers and other print publications as we get a better handle on the new Information Age down the line.
The E-Paper is at its core a reproduction of the morning print paper online, with a couple of important items of added functionality that could add sex appeal to the morning paper to web-savvy readers. The most noticeable is that clicking on a story on a page takes you to a full-page view of the story complete with photos. The second is the reader function that with a click of the mouse gives you an audio version of the story.
A third bit of functionality that should catch the attention of advertisers is the ability to click on ads and have them pop up as individual items in a new browser window.
The New Dominion Magazine began offering something similar in terms of an online version of the print magazine in the fall of 2008. The difference being that the online New Dominion print magazine is still being made available for free, while The News Virginian is hoping that its E-Paper will be able to bring in a new revenue stream to balance losses in print circulation being felt across the industry.
I give Media General an A for effort to that end of what they’re doing here. What I’ve seen from the E-Paper can definitely be improved upon, but hey, again, they’re trying, and that’s half the battle.
“The hard part to that is, nobody wants to take the leap to finding the real solution to this because they don’t want to be out there all alone,” Wolverton said.
“We do want to drive people to pay for the content,” Wolverton said. “What we’re attempting is an extraordinarily imperfect answer, but it’s something that I think we need to figure out. As an industry, we need to figure this out.”