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T&G website to charge for some local news

Paper adopting ‘metered’ access

By Jacqueline Reis
Worcester Telegram & Gazette / April 26, 2010

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WORCESTER— The Telegram & Gazette will begin charging some online readers for locally produced news content on its website, Telegram.com, starting this summer.

Newspaper subscribers will continue to be able to access all content at no charge.

Nonsubscribers will be asked to pay after they hit a predetermined number of staff-generated local news articles. After users pass that limit, they will be asked to pay a monthly charge or buy a day pass.

The price and threshold have not been determined.

Much of Telegram.com’s content will continue to be free, including breaking news bulletins, wire service stories, obituaries, classified ads, local blogs, photo galleries, and videos.

All information from the newspaper’s weekly news and information products, available on TelegramTowns.com, will also remain free. The only content that would carry a price is that produced by Telegram & Gazette news staff.

Publisher Bruce Gaultney said the change would bring new revenue to support news operations.

“We view this as a way to recognize the value of local news and expect the traffic will continue on the site, because so much of what we’re offering . . . is free and not blocked by anything,’’ he said.

The new model will allow the newspaper to count online subscribers as part of its paid circulation. Gaultney said the company is still researching how much money the change could generate.

The newspaper expects it will “assume some loss’’ in website viewers, said Mark Henderson, online director, but having other readers registered will help the company know its audience better.

The Telegram & Gazette will not sell information gathered as part of the registration, he said.

Telegram.com has been free since July 2006. From July 2002 to July 2006, it charged readers a fee for all of its content. That “paywall’’ approach “certainly wasn’t working for us,’’ Gaultney said.

The new approach, called “a metered model,’’ is similar to one The New York Times has said it will introduce next year. The New York Times Co. owns the Telegram & Gazette, as well as The Boston Globe, but Gaultney said the T&G’s move was “absolutely not’’ the result of any pressure from New York.

The Globe has “no immediate plans to charge visitors for use of the website,’’ said Lisa M. DeSisto, general manager of Boston.com. “It’s a complex issue to tackle, and we haven’t made any decisions yet.’’

The Telegram & Gazette’s print circulation is about 71,000 daily and 81,000 on Sundays.

Al Tompkins, group leader for broadcasting and online at the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a journalism training organization, was skeptical a paid website would boost revenue for the Telegram & Gazette. Paid websites are most likely to work when they are for specialized publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, he said.

Tompkins said he understands the search for new revenue. “It costs a lot to collect news, and news irritates people, and so you’re likely to irritate the very people you wish would spend money with you, but it’s valuable,’’ he said. “It’s so, so, so difficult, though, to take something we’ve given away for free . . . without offering something better that goes with it . . . a whole new kind of content or a whole new delivery system.”

News websites have three ways to make money online, Tompkins said: gather enough people so that they can sell that audience to advertisers, which is how free websites work; gather other people’s reporting and send readers there but not until they have stopped at your own site, which is how The Huffington Post works; or have “a small audience of highly motivated users who are loyalists for you and they will pay for your content.’’