Online news Paid content

We can’t forget the value of convenience for readers

Brian Steffens of the NNA has a blogpost every editor and publisher in Texas needs to read.  It’s about what readers really want, and are willing to pay for — and it’s not necessarily just our content. 
To whet your appetite, here’s a sample:
“How convenient are our papers for our readers? Is the type large enough for easy reading, or have we shrunk the text size, crammed the letterspacing and reduced the leading/line spacing to get the same amount of news in fewer pages (pages that may now be harder to read, negating the “benefit” of fitting all the news into fewer pages)? How readable are those classifieds or public notices?

“How convenient are our papers for our advertisers? Is the rate card easy to read and understand, or deadly dull full of ratios and formulas and grids that only your sales reps can read and interpret? Is it simple and easy for a reader to place a classified ad, when they think of it, whether it’s during business hours or in the evening after their work shift and they have time to think about selling off something in the garage or basement?

“While we agonize over our content and how to charge for it, let’s not forget a simple marketing maxim: a great way to differentiate your product or service from the next one is to make it easy on the customer. If two providers offer a similar product or service, they’ll pick the one that’s easiest to use.”

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

What can the City Council call an executive session for under Texas law?

The Texas Open Meetings Act (Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.001 et seq.) requires that meetings of government bodies be open unless a certain exception in the act applies.  These exceptions include consultation with its attorney about “pending or contemplated litigation” [Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.071(1)(A)], discussions about purchasing property if it may adversely affect bargaining position [Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.073], and certain personnel matters [Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.074].

Notice of the reason for going into closed session must be given at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting [Texas Local Gov’t Code sections 551.041 and 551.043].  The Texas Supreme Court has said that the Open Meetings Act requires more than bare listings of “personnel” or “litigation” on the notice posted.  Rather, the court requires that the notice “should specifically disclose the subjects to be considered at the upcoming meeting.” [Cox Enterprises, Inc. v. Board of Trustees, 706 S.W.2d 956, 959 (Texas 1986)].  Examples the court gave were as follows:

  • Selection of a new school superintendent is not in the same category as ordinary personnel matters — and a label like “personnel” fails as a description of that subject.
  • Similarly, a major desegregation lawsuit which has occupied the Board’s time for a number of years, and whose effect will be felt for years to come, is not in the same category as the more common “litigation” which a school board may expect to face. Certainly, a school board is not expected to disclose its litigation strategy, but it cannot totally conceal that a pending desegregation lawsuit will be discussed. [706 S.W.2d at 959]

Beyond that, however, the Texas Supreme Court and the Attorney General have not given much guidance about how much information a government body must disclose. 

If a government body announces on its agenda that it plans to go into closed session, but gives no more detail than “personnel matters” or “litigation,” citizens and journalists should push to ask for more information about the reason for going into closed session.  Further, they can steer reluctant government employees to the Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act Handbook (2010 edition now available at; information relevant to this question is on pages 22-25), which also calls for more detailed information in meeting notices.

If the government body still refuses to provide more detail for its closed sessions, citizens and journalists should seek the assistance of an attorney to consider legal remedies.  A court may declare actions taken with improper notice void [Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.141], or it may be able to issue an injunction to “reverse a violation or threatened violation” of the Open Meetings Act [Texas Local Gov’t Code section 551.142].

Paid content

Will readers pay for news? Polls disagree

The good news is that there has been a lot of research on whether or not people would pay for news online. The bad news is that the polls disagree. One says 53 percent would pay; another says only 20 percent would pay. And how much? Almost $5, according to one poll, only $3, according to another. No matter what price readers say they are willing to pay, the $3 to $5 subscription is a lot less than most publishers want to charge.

Online advertising

Changes in the online advertising market that you need to understand

Chuck Nau, of Murray & Nau Inc., discusses changes in the online advertising market — in radio, local television and direct mail — and how they’re changing the advertising game for community newspapers during the Keys to Growing Online Advertising Revenue workshop at Texas Christian University on October 29, 2009.


SPJ Workshop Materials

Download the file here.

Online news Paid content

Readers, news executives have different views of online news products

Newspaper people like to think they have their fingers on the pulse of readers. They like to think they have an idea of what readers think, what they want, what they believe they need. A new survey shows, however, that news execs far overestimate their readers’ perceived needs for the news they’re producing – in any format. For example, both groups were asked what readers would do if their local newspaper Web site went away. Would they turn to the print product to get news? An overwhelming 75 percent of news execs said if their Web site went away, readers would pick up the print edition. But only 30 percent of readers said they would – 68 percent said they’d go to other Web sites, 45 percent would turn to TV. This is one of those surveys that anyone in news should read.


Spending money on marketing plays off in the long run

That’s the convention wisdom, and now it’s confirmed in a new report, “Small business Marketing Health Check.” The report found a direct relationship between spending on marketing and the success of the small business. Example: Of businesses with flat or declining revenues, only a third had raised or planned to raise spending on marketing. But two-thirds of businesses with increased revenues had raised spending on marketing. The survey also showed small businesses shifting spending away from traditional media toward social media and email newsletters.

Future of news

New online news venture begins in Texas

One of the more interesting online news ventures in the nation is happening right here in Texas. It’s an online-only news site that was launched as a non-profit organization. It’s called the Texas Tribune, and it’s funded by readers who donate to keep alive what they consider a worthy cause. The editor is Evan Smith, former editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly. You can check out the new site at And even if you don’t go there, look at what promises to be a regular feature on that site – using animation and pop-ups to insert everything from humor to fact-checking to background information into a speech, inserted during the speech itself. Currently, the “victim” is Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. You can see the “stump interrupted” concept on the Texas Tribune site, or access it directly from YouTube at

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Do you ever send your sales representatives out as a collection agency?

When an account is 60-days past due, accounting takes a copy of the statement to the advertising sales manager and she or the sales representative call the past-due advertiser and put them on a “cash only” basis and try to encourage the customer to pay a portion of the past due with their cash payment for current advertising. The sales rep usually handles the first contact by telephone and occasionally makes a personal call on the advertiser. If not successful, the general manager gets involved and no further advertising is accepted.


Newspapers experiment with charging for premium content

Two news items about our business from last week:

  • Circulation is down. Big-time.  Average weekday circulation has dropped nearly 11 percent, the sharpest decline in years.  And the big guys are hurting the most:  Nearly two-thirds of the 25 largest papers in the U.S. posted circulation declines of 10 percent or more.
  • Despite the drop in circulation, or maybe because of it, the buzz in corporate offices is still about how to charge for content.  More publishers, it seems, are determined to make news consumers pay for what they’ve been getting up to now for free. But despite the conversation about the need for pay walls, and no lack of proposals about how to make them work, publishers realize that erecting pay walls only drives away readers.

About the only pay-wall ideas with traction now are the ones that involve charging not for the basic news content of the paper, but for supplemental content.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for instance, has a free site but charges $19.95 a year for premium coverage of the Minnesota Vikings — a plan similar the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Packer Insider coverage.

The Wall Street Journal Online uses a model now being talked about in Texas newsrooms — offering some free content, but only teasing a lot of major pieces, which will require a subscription.  The magazine Consumer Reports uses much the same approach.

The issues here, of course, are that these are highly specialized media.  WSJ is the last word in business and financial coverage, and CR is best known for its product reviews.  Neither — at least of that quality and reputation — is available free on the Web and gathered in one site.

Some newspapers have even offered up as a model iTunes, which lets the consumer pay for individual music downloads.  Newspapers, some publishers say, could offer news downloads in the same way.  Of course, downloaded music can be played again and again, and you don’t typically see news and opinion being read over and over.

And perhaps the Internet’s best example of pay-for-specialized-content is the one type of content that (until social media came along) was most prevalent online:  pornography.  But even with porn, you can now get pretty much all the smut you want for free, and profits for purveyors of porn have plummeted.  [Sorry; some alliterations are just too good to pass up.]

Lauren Fine, research director for ContentNext Media, believes that newspapers are going to have to realize that they cannot charge for most types of news:

“[Newspapers] have to think a little more creatively about what people will pay for, what they find of value, but core news in and of itself still feels like there’s so much available that it will be hard to get people to pay,” Fine said.

The analyst believes newspapers are going to have to think out of the box to come up with the types of content people will pay for on their Web sites:

“If I’m a local newspaper, maybe I can’t get you to pay for the content, but I could create a real estate service that says you’re going to be one of 25 people who receive the first alert that a new home is available,” she said.

The real question, of course, is what kind of content the reader will be willing to pay for.  One blogger put it like this in a series of questions we must all eventually ask ourselves:  “What value are you providing that makes it worth paying you? That’s the question I keep asking. Newspaper folks seem to think that their content is magically so valuable that everyone will start paying if they charge. There’s no evidence that’s true at all. So what value are they adding beyond all the other content out there that makes it worth actually paying for?”

That’s the dilemma.  The staff of the Center is following this issue, so you keep following the blogs and Around the Web features here, and we’ll report the newest trends and experiments in ways to charge for premium content.