Oh dear. It seems the Mainstream Media Express has made yet another stop at Cluelesstown. Yesterday, New York Times publisher Auther Sutlzberger made the bizarre claim that charging for content is about “enhancing the emotional connection that users have with us”.
Does he actually believe that once they move to their metered pay model that the NYT will have stronger relationships with their visitors than free sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Digg have with theirs? Does he mean to say that my enjoyment of reading Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine would increase if he only had the balls to start charging me for it?
This is just more evidence of print news execs refusing to step into the 21st century by attempting to apply old-school rules to new media. There is an old print belief that paid copies of newspapers are more valuable than free sheets because somehow paying for a newspaper increases it’s value in a reader’s mind and deepens their engagement. I’ve yet to see a shred of real evidence that this was indeed the truth. Longer and more frequent reading occasions of paid newspapers over free are likely due to ease of accessibility, quality of journalism or just plain old volume of stories and information. But, it makes a great story to tell your advertisers when justifying this year’s rate increase.
Nothing could be further from the truth in the online world. Great relationships come through openness and interaction. If the NYT wants to increase the quality of their relationships with readers they need to open up comments on more than just 10 stories a day. They need to ask for more reader participation in news gathering and analysis, step up their social marketing efforts and stop seeing the news as a one-way conversation. When users are active members of a web community, websites get better.
It means newspapers have to work harder, change age-old habits and attitudes and take the risk that some experiments will fail.
The Ben Franklin Project challenges the community to come together to decide what information it would like to see covered and further encourages readers to become active members of the news gathering process by submitting tips, personal stories, photos, videos and more using tools found for free on the Internet. Part of the project's mission is to create a web and print publication for one week that uses only free tools widely available on the Internet to show residents just how easy it is to become part of the process and help participate in the creation of their local news coverage.
Which plan of action will be a bigger hit with readers and advertisers? My money’s on Paton.