'Newsday' to Listen to Feedback on Paid Model

By: Joe Strupp Newsday will not hesitate to change what's free and what isn't on its Web site after it unveils a new subscriber requirement next week, according to Debby Krenek, managing editor and senior vice president/digital media.

Krenek, who has overseen the Web site since 2001, told E&P nothing is set in stone -- and the site may well make some paid items free, and vice versa, as time goes on.

"The Web is a moving, breathing thing. We are going to be able to watch and see what people do," said Krenek. "We are going to be tweaking based on what [readers] have to say. One of the great things about the Web is that you get immediate feedback on what your users are coming to you for."

For example, if a big story breaks that editors feel should require free access, they will allow it. "If there is something that is of critical need for Long Islanders to be aware, we would give them access," she said. "Some major disaster in the area, some health scare, anything we feel would be critical.

"We think it is going to be successful and a real value for Long Islanders," said Krenek, a former editor of New York's Daily News. "We have a unique opportunity to do it."

That opportunity arises from parent company Cablevision, which also owns Optimum Online. Under the plan, to take effect Oct. 28, Newsday print subscribers and Optimum customers will have total access to the Web site. Others will have to pay $5 per week for an online subscription.

Non-subscribers will get to see only the site's homepage, as well as classifieds, school closings, obituaries, weather and entertainment listings.

Newsday officials also claim their new plan to charge for online access will not affect most local readers, citing figures that 75% of homes in its circulation area are either print subscribers or customers of sibling Optimum Online.

"We looked at the areas of the site that are value-added to our Long Island core," Krenek said about the decision to install the pay wall. "Local news coverage and hyper-local news coverage are vital to our site."

Non-subscribers who go to the home page will be able to access one full story per visit, but will only get a summary of each story after that. They also will not be able to see photos or video on the site.

Krenek said the move to a pay model has been in the works for about six months. "We looked around at other sites that have pay models," she added, noting The Wall Street Journal as one example. "We spoke to industry experts and tried to do a lot of due diligence for a site that would be engaging and useful."

The paper prepared for the change as far back as July when it began to require online users to register for access. Readers seeking the online-only subscription will not be able to subscribe until the change occurs next Wednesday.

Newsday put forth the new plans with full force today, sending a press release to news outlets, publishing a story on the move in print and online and giving readers a letter from Publisher Terry Jimenez that calls the change "exciting" and "an important reflection of our continuing efforts to provide exclusive benefits, more value and better services for our customers."

Newsday's web story on the move solicited only two comments as of late Thursday morning, both opposing the move.

One comment stated, "We all know that this won't last once the advertisers see the total traffic to the site drop."

Newsday officials said reader feedback had so far not been any different than on most weekdays. But E&P's call to the paper this morning was greeted by a voice recording stating, "We are currently experiencing unexpected high call volume."


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