Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why I don't pay for print

Just a few moments ago (while I was reading some news online), a man knocked on our door holding a clipboard. He was soliciting print subscriptions to The Kansas City Star.

After getting through his intro and asking if I was the guy that used to live in our house, he asked if I had ever considered purchasing a print subscription to the Star.

"No, I read the Star online," I told him.

"How often do you read it online?" he asked.

"Every day," I said.

He then went on to explain that a print subscription comes with some kind of "e-edition" or something that apparently isn't available to me now. I politely told him I wasn't interested and said, "Thank you," before returning to my computer and an article I had found using Google News.

Of course, nothing I'll say here is news to anybody. While I still enjoy the look and feel of a newspaper, my affection for print is no longer strong enough to spend money on it. The content I want to read in the Star is available for free, so paying for another online edition seems pointless.

But, to be honest, even if it wasn't available for free, I still don't think I would likely pay for an online subscription. More than likely, I would find the info I need somewhere else.

Unfortunately for journalists and publishing companies, that's the reality of today's online world. Oh, sure, as a journalism undergraduate, I would have argued tooth and nail the value of journalism in a democratic society, that newspapers and other respected media outlets are important components of our communities. But going on eight years since graduation and working in the increasingly depressing world of B2B media, my view is much more cynical than it was in 2001.

But I had no reason to believe otherwise in college. Even in one of the country's most-respected journalism programs, I never once heard the word "blog" in a journalism class and the only thing I learned from the "online journalism" course that was offered was a very basic understanding of Dreamweaver and how to use a search engine.

I actually still have the book from that class, "Introduction to Online Journalism." One of the first sentences in the preface states, "There are credible people who argue that the Web is the most potentially powerful communications development since the invention of movable type. That remains to be seen." I think the current state of print media has more than answered that question. The book, published in 2001, describes in detail how to use a search engine but mentions nothing of how to write for a search engine, something too few journalists understand these days.

Learning to write for the web and understanding how search engines work is something I hope this blog can occasionally help readers do, as well as inform about other online journalism trends.

These days, it's all about page views, unique visitors, ad impressions and "revenue-facing" strategies for the web, and most of these aren't going to be enough to support the large media companies we've come to rely on for free. Content producers are going to become smaller, more resourceful, and journalists will need to know how to hard-code a hyperlink to open in a new browser window as much as they'll need to know how to cite their sources.

Online journalism is something I wish I would have taken more seriously in college, but as much as we talked about the Internet's "potential impact," we never really learned the skills we needed to adapt and survive. I'm still learning myself, and I hope others will help join in the discussion.

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