The day has finally arrived. No, not the day that I officially resign from blogging. The day that the QCTimes, and specifically QCTimes.com resigns from being the go-to place for news and community interaction in the Quad Cities region.
Read their explanation of what's happening here
Think about it: What is the most visited local website? It's almost certainly QCTimes.com, and the reason for that is that they have always had great, FREE, content. QCOnline has almost always gotten this wrong. They used to have only the last few days' articles available, which caused me to almost never link to them. Why send my blog readers a link that essentially expires in a week. Then they opened up QCOnline for a while, but now they've gone to the same "x amount of articles per month" system that the QCTimes is implementing.
Even though I'm not in the journalism business, I've been following the print media's adjustment (or lack thereof) to the digital world closely. One voice that I've found to be extremely reasoned and knowledgeable on this subject is CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis. He's written a lot of paywalls vs being the website that the community feels they're a part of. I'd suggest looking into his writings if you're interested in this issue. The QCT's online commenting system is a brilliant way of encouraging community discussion and engagement with the news, as wild and crazy as the comments sometimes get. In the first year of the online comment system, I was told by a QCTimes employee that they had over 10,000 usernames signed up. Obviously there are a few folks with multiple names, but that's still a massive number. I'm sure its only higher now. How many of those people who come to QCTimes.com for not only news, but community, are going to bust out their credit cards without batting an eye? The biggest value the QCTimes provides is engagement and relationship with their web visitors, not simply providing content for them to passively view. This encourages people to link to your articles on Twitter, Facebook, and their own blogs, which drive more traffic and more value to your website/newspaper.
One of the most unbelieveable parts of this is that people paying for home delivery are being asked to pay $2 a month for full online access. This will simply diminish the number of home delivery subscribers. Currently I pay around $200 a year for the actual paper newspaper to be delivered to my door. Now they are asking me to pay twice for the same information online. So since I'm not about to pay twice for the same articles, this new system pushes me to drop my $200+ a year subscription and sign up for the online-only, $5.95 a month setup. "$200 or $72?", is the question a lot of home delivery folks are going to be asking themselves. Newspapers' biggest income is still ads in the paper edition. What are these ads going to be worth if nobody gets home delivery anymore? If the circulation numbers drop by 50% will that massive drop in ad revenue be made up by some $6 a month subscription fees? I am not only complaining about this stuff because I like free online news; I am complaining because I want the QCTimes to succeed and prosper in the digital world, and continue providing the generally good reporting they do on local news. This downward spiral of less content->fewer readers->less money->less content is not where I want to see them go.
So what now? Well, in the age of the internet, we have options. Twitter and Facebook have already become important places that people go for news, both in link form, and firsthand accounts. Patch.com is a local news site owned by AOL that hasn't taken off here, probably due to the QCTimes making it unnecessary. Blogs aren't going away, and in fact this one might be coming back from the dead to provide free and unlimited news to people disappointed in paywalls and limits triumphing over community engagement.. The movement of that "around the watercooler" discussion from blogs to the QCTimes comments made this blog less exciting for visitors and myself, so maybe the death of the QCTimes website will bring back local blogging. Or maybe everyone will think $6 a month isn't too bad. We will see.
In that mean time, I'm planning to be a little more active on Facebook, so I'd suggest all of you "Like" QuadCityImages at www.facebook.com/QuadCityImages