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Fri - 22.09.2017

MediaNews Group plans to charge online, revamp websites and create local info portals

MediaNews Group plans to charge online, revamp websites and create local info portals

Poynter's Romenesko blog has published a memo from MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton and president Jody Lodovic to the group's employees which explains that the company is planning to charge for online content, to revamp its websites and to build new local information sites. The memo, originally sent on May 8, is the result of a recent executive meeting on the company's interactive strategy.

The interactive summit was meant to address "three daunting challenges" that the company is facing. The first is that "we continue to do an injustice to our print subscribers and create perceptions that our content has no value by putting all of our print content online for free." As well as reducing print circulation, this "devalues the core of our business - the great local journalism we (and only we) produce on a daily basis." The second is that "our interactive revenue growth has slowed because it has been too closely tied to our print classified business, which has suffered with the advent of Craigslist" and others. Thirdly, "we are not significantly extending the reach of our audience, as our online products too closely resemble the newspaper, and thus fail to meaningfully read the next generation of readers."

At the meeting, a "three-pronged approach" was decided upon to tackle these questions. The company "will begin to move away from putting all of our newspaper content online for free." It seems that a part-paid, part-free strategy will be adopted, with print subscribers having full access automatically, something which the New York Times actually seems to be reconsidering. Non-print subscribers who want to see the whole paper "will be directed to some sort of registration or pay vehicle:" it is not clear what sort of subscription options will be open to them, or if there will be an opportunity to purchase individual articles. What is clear, however, that the company is not trying to "invent new premium products," but charge for the existing online offering in an attempt to assert that the newspaper is a product "which must be paid for."

The second prong aims to develop the company's newspaper websites into a "different product," to differentiate them from the print papers and "focus on strategies designed to reach younger audiences and extend our reach," on the assumption that younger people do not buy newspapers. The new regional news sites will have an emphasis on breaking news and will include user-generated content, community involvement and third party content:" the latter elements being a good way to get more content free. Although they will continue to draw content from the newspapers, this will be "probably in a more abbreviated form" and "the presentation of that content will be different." As well as trying to "expand our audience" the company is determined not to alienate its existing audience. Local retail advertising opportunities will also be offered.

The third strategy is to create a collection of "local utility" sites which comprise "an ecosystem of local information, resources, user content, shopping guides and marketplaces." In each area, the local product will aim to be the "ultimate site for people to find stuff, do stuff, and get stuff done in their local market." The sites will use some newspaper content and add new content such as entertainment and lifestyle in order to attract a younger audience. They will also aggregate city or community sites and marketplaces. The executives believe that these projects will work as "we have the advantage of being the trusted source of news and information in our communities and have a large base of traffic."

The new strategies will be carried out with a "template approach" that will take advantage of the size of MNG to develop and roll out solutions fast. Four taskforces will be formed to implement the ideas: news, local, premium and technology. A new technical taskforce will evaluate the needs of a new CMS. The company is also going to start looking at targeted advertising opportunities, initially focusing on "five of six niche vertical content channels" which will be built with a common template. It is also considering new "tiered circulation pricing strategies" for the print product.

The plans seem to be largely financially motivated, clearly the company is not making enough money from online advertising. Paid online content is something which is being widely considered among newspaper publishers at the moment. Rupert Murdoch has just announced that News Corp newspapers are to start charging for online content within a year, and Twitter messages from a New York Times reporter in a staff meeting suggested that the paper is also thinking about how to charge. MNG's goal of persuading readers that their product is worth paying for is an understandable one, but the decision not to focus on creating new premium offerings, rather charging for the existing content, may not be the wisest choice. It appears far more of a challenge to make people start paying for something that they currently get free than to persuade them to subscribe to a new premium service. But if the websites are revamped sufficiently so that readers could feel as if they are getting something new, and the content is unique enough, it might work. Creating local information portals seems to have considerable potential, though the relationship between these and the news sites is not clear.

Source: Poynter



Emma Goodman


2009-05-13 11:48

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