Local newspapers operated by Denver-based MediaNews Group are going behind a paywall next week. The North Adams Transcript and two of the company's Vermont papers, the Bennington Banner and the Brattleboro Reformer, announced the new subscription service on Friday.
The regional flagship, The Berkshire Eagle, is apparently not involved in this round but will likely join the smaller papers if the experiment works.
Current subscribers of the newspapers will be offered a $19.99 year fee for online access; an online only subscription will cost $59.99 a year. You'll get five page views a month before the wall appears asking you to subscribe.
MediaNews Group has been looking at implementing paywalls for nearly two years, starting first in California and Pennsylvania last year. CEO Dean Singleton said in February that traffic at those papers has stayed steady but subscriptions haven't gone up.
What will continue to be "free" are the classifieds, obituaries and social announcements, all basically paid advertising sections. You'll also be able view headlines on the home pages.
MediaNews isn't alone in trying to find a way to make online news pay. The industry's been hammered by high overhead, declining circulation and an online landscape that's created a banquet of news sources for readers to browse.
Here at iBerkshires.com (which has absolutely no affiliation with the local newspaper group and which is locally owned and staffed), we will continue to provide news in as timely a manner as possible and we won't make you pay to read it. In fact, the iBerkshires family is growing with the addition of some truly hyperlocal sites like www.williamstown.com that we hope you will not only read but also contribute to.
The way we access information has changed dramatically in the past decade. iBerkshires is experimenting not with paywalls but with community forums that will allow readers to contribute content — an accident, an event, a neat photo. We're also working through our Facebook pages and Twitter feed to encourage readers to comment on and inform their neighbors on what's happening.
If you like what we're doing, then thank our advertisers by clicking on their ads and using their services. You'll be supporting local businesses, the local economy, and local news.
Our condolences go out to our colleagues at the North Adams Transcript on the passing of Editor-in-Chief Glenn Drohan.
Glenn died Thursday morning after several years battling cancer. He spent more than a quarter-century in local newsrooms, leaving a legacy of hard-hitting journalism on the printed page and hammered into young reporters' brains.
The Transcript's Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau wrote an
about Glenn from the perspective of his many friends and sometime adversaries. I knew Glenn for more than a decade but not that he'd acted in a children's theater troupe or sang and played the guitar. Beneath that crusty reporter exterior he was really an artist.
He wasn't always the easiest person to work with, but he was dedicated to his craft. An award-winning writer, Glenn had an encyclopedic knowledge of every significant political and news event in North County for the past three decades. His extensive body of work are a researcher's heaven — from the history of the Greylock Glen projects to the closing of Yankee Atomic to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering for charter schools.
There were articles that I, as a reporter and copy editor at New England Newspapers, would find myself referring back to again and again. They were concise, well written and loaded with facts.
I always envisioned Glenn as one of those old leather-shoe reporters, hanging out in a police station, hoisting one at the end of workingman's bar, pecking away at a typewriter with a cigarette dangling from his lips, meeting an informant in a dark parking garage. He was a man with ink in his blood; he didn't fit easily into the newfangled world of Internet news.
His longtime friend Mayor John Barrett III really summed up Glenn best in Huberdeau's story: "Glenn was a newsman's newsman."
The Berkshire Eagle abruptly suspended its link to Topix on Friday, with a three-paragraph announcement on its website. The posting says the disconnect was done while "its managers examine options for online discussions."
The North Adams Transcript and Bennington Banner were still using Topix over the weekend.
The Eagle and its sister New England Newspaper publications signed onto the independent forum site and local news aggregator a couple years ago to use its platform for commenting on its articles. Topix, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., was launched with capital from the Knight Ridder, Tribune and Gannett news publishing groups.
In March, TechCrunch reported Topix overall was getting more than 125,000 comments a day and 120 million pageviews a month. It's the type of commenting that happens on Topix, however, that may be giving The Eagle pause. The site removes 45,000 comments a month and gets hit with 10 subpoenas a week. (For more on Topix's growth, the TechCrunch article is here.)
iBerkshires was posting some of its stories to the Topix discussions groups; we also are editors for North Adams, Pittsfield and Williamstown and the photos you see on the North Adams news page are ours. But the quick slide into nastiness in the Topix forums led me, the editor, to stop posting. The Topix aggregator roboblogger still picks up our stuff but there are rarely any comments. As far as I can tell, most readers around here arrive at Topix through the newspapers' online articles not through the town news pages.
Topix is not so much a community forum for the sharing of ideas, but a cesspool of name-calling, slander and really, really inappropriate comments. For every thoughtful idea or positive comment, there are 10, or a hundred, verbal assaults. The site's immediate posting of anonymous commentary certainly fuels the fiery ripostes and a coalition of attorneys general have targeted some of the site's practices.
We know that the newspapers' editors have removed abusive comments as best they can.
At iBerkshires, we're stodgy but clean. Every comment is reviewed before posting; sometimes it's a difficult call between snarky, honest-if-critical opinion and nastiness. We've had to pull some comments after initially posting them but overall we've done our best to keep posters on track. We are considering ways to make it easier to post that will likely mean some type of membership with us.
According The Eagle post, it wants "a forum for open and respectful discussions." We hope we've been providing our readers with that for the past few years. If we need to do more, let us know.
Update: The Transcript joined its sister paper in delinking from Topix on Tuesday, Aug. 10. It offered the same brief reasoning on its website, stating "The Transcript has suspended our Topix forum indefinitely due to continuing abuse."
Both papers say they're looking at other forms that will allow commenting to resume.