May 12, 2009

MediaNews memo outlines new online strategy*

MediaNews Group execs Dean Singleton and Jody Lodovic sent out a memo Friday that says the chain will end the practice of giving readers free access to its newspaper websites. They leave it up in the air whether readers will have to pay a subscription fee or simply register to gain access.

The plan also calls for overhauling the chain's websites so that they look less like the print edition and provide more regional and youth-oriented content - which seems to be an extension of the consolidation that's already occurred within LANG, BANG, etc.

Here's the problem as Singleton and Lodovic see it:
First, 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. Not only does this erode our print circulation, it devalues the core of our business - the great local journalism we (and only we) produce on a daily basis. Second, 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 other free online classified opportunities. Finally, we are not significantly extending the reach of our audience, as our online products too closely resemble the newspaper, and thus fail to meaningfully reach the next generation of readers.
Here's what they propose to do about it:
We will begin to move away from putting all of our newspaper content online for free. Instead, we will explore a variety of premium offerings that apply real value to our print content. We are not trying to invent new premium products, but instead tell our existing print readers that what they are buying has real value, and to our online audience (who don't buy the print edition), that if you want access to all online content, you are going to have to register, and/or pay. If a non-subscriber wants the newspaper content in its entirety online, they will be directed to some sort of registration or pay vehicle (and if they are a print subscriber, they will have full access at no charge).


We will begin differentiating our sites from the newspaper and focus on strategies designed to reach younger audiences and extend our reach. The websites, as we call them now, will become a different product. This new site, which we have been calling, will be a regional news site that is actively managed to present breaking news. It will continue to draw a content from the newspaper (but probably in a more abbreviated form), but will also have user-generated content, community involvement and third party content.
Click here to read the full memo.

*In somewhat related news, the Los Angeles Daily News is inviting readers to follow the paper on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

Good idea, bad time to execute it.

I have always thought papers were dumb for giving everything away for free.

However, LANG is hurting big time financially, and it will cost money to relaunch this properly - not the half ass way papers like to do everything - which means a marketing plan and more writers, meetings and some true web folks.

Anonymous said...

You mean to tell me the the leadership of these newspapers have just realized that craigslist/internet has had an impact on their classified business and they need to react...unbelieveable. No need to wonder why they are in the position they find themselves.

This memo is about as well written and clear as the last one that they never followed through on. What local journalism? The have virtually none left. An injustice to print subscribers...that injustice has been the dismantling of local newspapers over the past few years under their watch.

Their interactive revenue growth has slowed because they do not have products that work. For example, try placing an ad utilizing their web site. Their product offerings suck, they react years to late, and they don't follow through.

Yeah, their future is bright.

Anonymous said...

Interesting approach. Might be tough to do in SoCal given that MNG has cut nearly all web staff at the LANG papers. It is also odd to hear Dean talk about investing in technology since the only technology investment he has made in recent years at LANG has been in software used to replace staff. The LANG papers use a horrible mishmash of third-party internet products that don't work together even on a good day. Lastly, given that Dean is up to his corporate gunwales in debt, how is he going to pay for reinventing the MNG online presence?

Gary Scott said...

Unless MediaNews plans to invest in these websites, and hire more "content providers," my guess is that we're going to see online consolidation the same as we've seen happen on the print side. Shared regional copy desks, shared regional printing, shared regional sections, and now a shared regional website.

Anonymous said...

This strategy will initially drive people away from the their websites too. There are still websites that offer content for free. What can the LANG newspapers offer readers they can't get from other sites? It will actually make their websites less attractive and reduce their hits, thus making it even harder to market to advertisers.

nota said...

Pay models are doomed to failure, as long as there are other sources of similar content available for free.

There are two possible solutions to this: Either produce content not readily available from other sources (ie, hire more writers and stop running shared and wire copy), or convince a significant number of your competitors to follow suit.

In time, I think the pay model will become much more common. But the growing pains of transitioning away from the belief that content has no inherent value and should be provided free is going to be very tough. If they'd had the foresight to do this eight years ago we'd be in a much better spot today.

newsjunkie said...

a day late and a dollar short. LANG websites hardly generate page views now when it's free. no one is going to pay. he talks about local? baloney. got rid of all the writers that cover local. and don't even have local production now. outsourced everything. where is the $$ going to come when he can't even pay his loan and had to request an interest only instead of defaulting. and they laid off and consolidated.

Anonymous said...

Some MNG sites, like the Mercury News or CC Times websites, already asks you to register, a carry over, from when some of those papers were owned by Knight Ridder.

Anonymous said...

The main theme is absolutely correct. Lean Dean got rid of anyone that had a clue about online to save a buck, as well as the writers he'd need to provide content you can't get anywhere else. What a putz.

Anonymous said...

I think newspaper companies should research whether they can get a (small) portion of the money being made by internet service providers. After all, entities like newspapers are driving the demand for internet access.

A similar model developed in the music industry. At one time, radio stations could play records on their stations without paying anything to songwriters.

That was changed by federal legislation, and many songwriters now make their living largely from the money they make in publishing from radio stations.

Maybe Congress should look into instituting a similar model for the Internet.

Comcast, Verizon and other companies providing internet service could have a portion of their revenue distributed to entities that create websites and drive traffic to websites.

This money would be separate from advertising revenue for newspapers and would enhance overall revenue for newspaper companies and other entities.

Some of the record labels have already been working on this to recapture some of the business they've lost because of the internet.

There might be some reason this model can't work or isn't legally feasible but I haven't heard it.

Anonymous said...


Music royalties are far different from media revenues, and legislatively mandating that ISPs pay money for content is so far afield that no sane mind can draw a parallel between the two. It will NEVER happen.

Can the ISPs be forced to give away money to newspapers? Maybe, but all the evidence refutes the idea. They're not in the content business. They provide bandwidth, that's it. Any side deals they have with MSN or Yahoo are national. Negotiating hundreds of contracts with regional papers isn't worth their time, and the return for them is negligible at best.

The idea that you can force ISPs to pay you because you're creating demand is one of the most desperate ideas I've heard so far.

Chris Reed said...

A total facepalm moment seemingly out of the 1990s Internet.

When the Times - New York and L.A. - charged for content in the 90s, it did little to bring in revenue and drove down page views.

The internet culture, as it is, distains on having to pay a "premium fee" for any content. That's why the two Times no longer charge for content and why AOL was doomed.

Name me any informational content site today that has been successful charging viewers to get what they can get other sites for free.

With nine metro reporters now, the Daily News is becoming 90 percent AP copy. Charging for that when one only needs to go to Google News for free is business suicide.

How about charging for local content? Going back to the thin reporter staff, what can the reader get for local news from the DN that they can't get for free on the Times site other than being more likely to get an update on road work on De Soto?

In a sense, I echo the first poster. Eventually - especially when online has a clear majority of the readers from print, a monthly subscription would be a logical idea.

But doing so now is moronic.

Anonymous said...

If they were smart, they would get people to sign up for a web account - send out email blasts previewing the lead stories in every section for the next day, the big Sunday feature and breaking news.
Use the Web as a marketing tool, to get people to pick up the print addition. You don't go to and find the entire movie there, you find previews and things to entice you to watch the movie.

Anonymous said...

The last poster could have stopped after if they were smart!

Anonymous said...

11:33 is correct. Although it is unlikely to be done. The ISPs have been supported by major content providers for 10 years. It is what drove and continues to drive the Internet. Verizon, Earthlink, Time Warner etc etc.

Then, of course, after ISPs actually contribute to the content providers, they can pass that expense onto the consumers who use it.

The ISPs are distributors, period. Distributors have to pay for the product which they deliver and resell.

Anonymous said...

Besides porn, name one content driven portion of the Internet that has been successful in pay-to-read?

I've been on the Net since the early 1990s. I can't name one.

Newshound said...

4:30, you nailed it. You figured out how LANG can finally be successful.


Have Lambert reading the news while people are having sex in the background, or better yet, have him do it as a voice-over.

The bucks will roll in.

Anonymous said...

Naw, they would screw it up, no pun intended.

Anonymous said...

All right, then have Pine reading the news while all the laid-off journalists do Lambert.

That might work.

Anonymous said...

Damn near te biggest bunch of crap I hacve read since their last joint memo about their business being a three legged stool blah blah blah that they never followed through on. This will be the same, pontification and no substance or follow through.

Anonymous said...

6:38, that's pretty much how they run what's left of the business.

Anonymous said...

as leaders of an organization how difficult is it to chart a course and follow through. if it isn't right and circumstances change, communicate and change. it can't be that tough can it?

I must have lost my mind...what was I thinking...communication, well thought out plans and adapting to changing circumstances...holy crap!