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Could regional papers charge for online content?

Worcester News editor Kevin Ward posed the question of whether regional newspapers could charge for online content at a seminar on the future of the industry today.

As the 2009 Society of Editors’ conference drew to a close, a group of national newspaper editors and former editors joined head of Google UK Matt Brittin for the annual 20/20 vision seminar on what the industry may look like a decade from now.

During a discussion on whether newspaper paywalls could work, Mr Ward suggested that, unlike national news, regional news was a sufficiently “niche” product to operate the charging model successfully.

“What we produce is niche. Nobody else sits in our courts every day. Nobody else scrutinises our public bodies,” he said.

Mr Ward went on to ask whether, as a result, regional papers had “more opportunity to charge for the web” than their national counterparts.

In response, Mr Brittin said: “Looking for local news is one of the biggest activities online. There are big opportunities there.”

The Society of Editors’ conference will be returning to Glasgow next year for the second time in five years.

Incoming president Donald Martin, editor-in-chief of Newsquest’s Herald and Times group, announced the move in his inaugural address which closed the two-day industry gathering.

“Where better to celebrate next year’s conference than in the great newspaper city of Glasgow,” he said.

“That’s a place where we work hard and party even harder.”

London Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig said his title would have gone under inside a year had the decision not been made to take it free.

He told the Society of Editors conference the decision had been taken as “a matter of survival.”

“The Standard had to face up to the reality that it was losing 10pc of its paid-for circulation per year

“We decided the only way forward was to go free. By doing that, we almost tripled the circulation and it became a powerful economic tool for advertising.”

The annual ‘Rat Up A Drainpipe’ award in memory of legendary political journalist Tony Bevins was won by Guardian reporter Paul Lewis for his series of articles on the death of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests.

Awarding the prize, Independent editor Roger Alton praised Paul’s “persistent questioning” of the way the police had handled the incident.


j (18/11/2009 10:12:10)
There’s a really high-quality fishing magazine out there. Has class writers, many of htem famous, writing about fishing each month. Expensive, about a fiver an issue, I think. Can you IMAGINE what would happen if they gave all their content away for free on the web? No doubt it would bancrupt them. So they’ve stayed subscription only. Newspapers should never have given away their valuable and much sought-after product for free. That’s why we are in this mess, IMO.

hackette (18/11/2009 10:17:02)
Resources put into web and video are out of all proportion to income on regional and weekly papers.
If you want to know how good your web site is start charging for it. It’s called market forces.
Might get a nasty surprise at local level

Journo1 (18/11/2009 11:27:20)
Because newspapers never just use the web to their advantage, say breaking a news article before the print edition comes out?! God forbid. Pretty sure charging for online content wouldn’t have saved me from being made redundant from a newspaper in July of this year (think it was something to do with the housing market crash in the USA)!

Darren (18/11/2009 14:51:13)
The content on newspaper websites doesn’t have to mirror exactly what is in the paper.
In fact, I think a good newspaper website should be substantially different from the print version.
There are plenty of examples of things that newspapers can do on a website they could never do in print directories, video reports, photo galleries, election coverage, live debate, etc
Newspapers can have decent websites without the need to put everything they print up on the web. People expect more nowadays.
It just takes a bit of forward thinking…

JustifiedPessamism (25/11/2009 11:00:46)
“No one else sits in courts all day”
No one sits in courts all day at all these days, Kevin.