MediaNews to Launch Partial Pay Walls at two Newspaper Sites

By: Joe Strupp

MediaNews Group plans to put up pay walls at two of its newspapers in early 2010, but with only some content requiring a fee.

The changes will take place at the Enterprise-Record in Chico, Ca., and the York (Pa.) Daily Record, and may later occur at other company sites.

“We don’t think putting everything behind a pay wall works, but we think putting some things behind a pay wall works,” said William Dean Singleton, MediaNews Group CEO and vice-chair. “We have to condition readers that everything is not free.”

The move followed an April meeting of MediaNews executives at Singleton’s Colorado ranch in which different Internet issues were discussed. That sparked the creation of several task forces to study the feasibility of Internet changes, including pay walls.

Last month the decision was made to test partial pay walls at the Chico and York sites. “We wanted to get sites that were not metro sites for the same reason that you don’t open on Broadway,” said Howard Saltz, vice president for content development. “But not a site that has Web traffic so small that the change would not affect anything.”

Saltz said the exact dates had not been decided, but estimated both sites would launch the pay requirement in the first quarter of 2010. He also said the decision about what would stay free and what would require a payment has also not been made.

“In front of the wall, you want to remain competitive,” Saltz added. “But we are not giving away our premium content for free.”

Gregg McConnell, publisher of the Enterprise-Record, said his paper wanted to be among the test sites after its editor, David Little, served on one of the MediaNews Group task forces. “Our newsroom generates a large amount of valuable content,” McConnell said. “It is also about expanding what we offer online beyond the news. To broaden our audience.”

York Daily Record executives and editors did not respond to requests for comment.

Saltz said more sites, including MediaNews Group’s larger papers such as The Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, would likely add a pay wall approach if the York and Chico efforts prove successful: “We are going to be rolling out for the next two years.”

But Singleton stressed that an all-pay model is unlikely and that each newspaper will have to determine what is best to charge for among its own content. “It will not be a cookie-cutter approach,” he said.


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