Note: I’ve reposted this on fixjournalism.com.
I don’t care who you are. Whether you’re an experienced journalist, a cynical editor, a skeptical student, a hopeful professor…you stopped to think about what the death of the Rocky Mountain News meant when they announced that their last issue would publish on Feb. 27.
You probably watched their Vimeo (my heart broke a little when I saw the journalist buy a lottery ticket and vow that he would buy the paper if he won) and downloaded the PDF copy of their front cover.
The day came and it ended. Newspapers closing isn’t a new story in America (see a full list of defunct newspapers here). It was time to move on and predict who was the next to go. The San Francisco Chronicle? The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (which has since stopped printing and is now online only)?
But part of the Rocky’s staff had a different idea.
Their plan is simple, if not easy to achieve: get 50,000 subscribers to agree to pay $4.99 a month to receive full access to their Web site. If they get these subscribers, the site launches in May.
Ludicrous, right? I’ve already heard the argument that no one, especially 50,000 no ones, will pay for news when they can get it for free online.
But according to InDenver, they’re not asking people to pay for news. They’re asking them to pay for the “little bit more” that journalists supposedly provide:
What will be free?
The news is free. For example: The story about who the Denver Broncos select in the first round of the NFL Draft will be available to all readers.
What do I have to pay for?
Insight, perspective, live blogging, live chatting, commenting, interactivity with writers and other readers. For example: What our Broncos writers think about the Broncos’ first-round pick and who they think the Broncos will pick in the second round, will be found in analysis and live chatting that are part of a subscription.
Even then, the question still remains – is it worth it? Or rather, will the people of the Denver metropolitan area think it’s worth it?
I don’t know. It’s a hard call. About 2.5 million people live in the area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (not including the Boulder and Greeley populations). InDenver is asking for 50,000 subscribers, a mere 2 percent of that population.
The Rocky boasted a 255,427 daily circulation and a 704,806 Sunday circulation in 2006, according to the Burrelles Luce list of the Top 100 newspapers in circulation.
And the $4.99 they’re asking for will total $3 million if they get the number of subscribers they want, which seems like a lot at first glance. At the press conference, InDenver investor Brad Gray said 70 percent of the costs should go back to the journalists, which would total about $2.1 million in what I assume would be wages and benefits. Not a bad deal for the 30-person staff, who will be living off their severance pay from the Rocky until late April (a Denver blog noted, “In a sense, the company [E.W. Scripps] that shut down the paper is financing their new venture.”).
Looking at the numbers, I think it’s plausible. If they succeed, InDenver would be a news outlet in a major city that was completely backed by its readers/subscribers, not advertising.
And that right there is why the naysayers who think that people don’t and won’t pay for news need to stop and listen.
The InDenver staff’s spirit is what matters in this endeavor. These journalists want to prove that the community they have served for 150 years cares enough to pay for their services.
Maybe it’s a business model that won’t work for any other media outlet. Maybe it’s a model that won’t even work for this media outlet.
But even if they fail, they will have demonstrated the kind of entrepreunurial spirit that is needed right now in journalism. We need the InDenver Times to take risks like this. Even if they fail, they will have tried, and that’s what matters the most.
We can’t find business models by saying micropayments don’t work, by giving flack to Newsday for starting to charge for content and by thinking the InDenver Times is nice, but will ultimately fail. We can only find them by trying, doing, failing and trying again.
Journalism needs risktakers to survive.
To paraphrase InDenver’s slogan, I’m in. Are you?