'Post-Gazette' Editor: New 'Paid' Site is Whole New Flavor

By: Joe Strupp Editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which launched a new paid Web site today, want to make clear that users will still get everything for free that they always have.

The new Web site, PG+, went live at midnight and is only accessible to subscribers paying $3.99 per month or $36 per year. But Editor David Shribman stresses that it has all new content and an approach very different from the main free site.

"Our effort was not to take away anything we are giving away for free, but to charge for new stuff we are giving," says Shribman. "It is like a publishing company putting out a new magazine, a new product."

Or if you like an ice cream analogy, he says, "We were always selling chocolate and vanilla [the print and free online versions]. Now we are also selling strawberry."

A peek at the PG+ lineup finds a mix of pay-only blogs and discussions, as well as a Facebook-like online community in which users sign on to post comments, interact with other users and Post-Gazette staffers. Online discussions with journalists and others also will be held.

In addition, two political writers will face off in an online discussion each day, while numerous sportswriters will blog only on the paid site in addition to their regular free site coverage. The newspaper has even sent a new beat writer to cover Penn State football for the first time in years, and blog only on the PG+ site.

Subscribers also get blogs from the paper's music writers, gardening expert, and others, as well as photos available only on the paid site. They even get a sneak preview of the next day's political cartoon in advance. There is also a breaking news feed that links to stories on the main free site.

"We wanted this to be a site that is more about user engagement, social activity and more blogging," said Deputy Managing Editor Mary Leonard. "It is all new."

The paid site also has no advertising. "We feel like you talk about it like you talk about HBO. You bought something and you don't want the experience disrupted," Leonard said.

PG+ subscribers get discounts at local retail outlets and to special area events. Anyone who signs up now gets a copy of the newspaper's Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl book.

"The business side and the news side together developed this," said Shribman. "We are both committed to the success and flourishing of the Post-Gazette. It brings greater depth and a different perspective and it doesn't take anything way from what we have been doing online."

Shribman said he has added staffers for the project, but declined to say how many new positions.

On the idea of charging for other online content, he notes, "journalism has value and good journalism has real value, and we need to support good journalism. I don't know many good furniture companies that give away couches."

Shribman said the idea has been under discussion at the paper for about a year. He declined to predict its future success, saying Tuesday morning: "We have only been doing it for about 10 hours and 20 minutes. But we are not planning to fail. We have to be imaginative and innovative and once again have some fun in this business."


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