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Marketplace Scratch Pad

The bottom of the barrel

Scott Jagow Dec 17, 2009

A once-proud newspaper has been reduced to begging for donations. The Miami Herald
issued a call to readers this week to help pay for online content. After perusing the website, I’m sure many readers are saying, you want me to pay for this?

Here’s the newspaper’s pitch:

If you value The Miami Herald’s local news reporting and investigations, but prefer the convenience of the Internet, please consider a voluntary payment for the web news that matters to you.

In trying to determine whether I would donate, I found this story titled Adultery 101 from Sunday’s edition. It’s written by Miami Herald staffers. They offer 5 ways Tiger Woods could have cheated and gotten away with it:

We’re not saying we condone Tiger’s actions — the best way to not get caught cheating on a spouse or significant other is to not cheat on your spouse or significant other. But from observing celeb and non-celeb cheaters from the sidelines for years, following these basic rules would help one cover his tracks.

Their suggestions include: No photos, using cash instead of credit, getting a “booty” phone, and having an air-tight alibi. Also: “We bet that most pimps don’t take American Express” and “Meetings, business lunches, four-day golf tournaments in Dubai or Las Vegas can all be perfect alibis…”

Classy, classy journalism. Please, where do I type in my credit card information???

A Miami Herald vice-president explains how the newspaper came to this (the funding plan, I mean):

“We’ve been watching what other papers in the country and around the globe have been doing,” Vanaver said. “There are a number of papers that are experimenting with some sort of pay formula. We had a team that explored the possibilities, and this is what they came up with.”

An online tip jar.

If you’re gonna ask for donations, at least do it right, says blogger Steve Outing:

  • (The Herald’s) approach is really unsophisticated. How about instead tracking frequent readers, and presenting them with a donation pitch after they’ve read a number of articles?

  • The only payment option is by credit card! Not even Paypal? That’s dumb.

  • I question the approach of an open donation amount. Better results will come by offering different specific donation levels. Or offer something back in the form of packages, with better goodies going with higher-priced donation selections. Listen to any NPR outlet’s pledge drive and learn form the experts.

And further learn that the content must be good.

Beyond Outing’s suggestions, newspapers need to stop acting like they’re pulling teeth. It’s getting in the way of their creativity. The Herald website has 5 million visitors a month. Yes, online ad rates are a fraction of newspaper rates (so far), but online production costs are much lower as well. There is a way to make this work. If people want the content, and the eyeballs are there, eventually, the money will come. It takes time, but it also takes thoughtfulness and focus.

Not doing a story on how to cheat on your spouse would be a good start.

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