Papers Implement Paywall; iBerkshires Still Free
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.
The company is testing this newest paywall among many of its smaller titles, all at the same subscription rate.
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.
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iBerkshires Turns 11 Years Old
An impromptu celebration of iBerkshires' 11th birthday on Monday at our offices on 106 Main St. in North Adams. On the ends are Tiffany Williamson and Fredy Alvarez, Boxcar employees who help us out a lot. In the middle from left are sports photographer and news clerk Marty Alvarez, senior reporter Andy McKeever, sales executive Wanda Haley and Editor Tammy Daniels. Our boss Ozzie Alvarez was holding the camera; missing the party were South County reporter Nichole Dupont and community editor Aimee McDermott.
We almost missed it, but our sharp-eyed writer Andy McKeever noticed that we'd just hit a milestone: 11 years.
Yep, that's how long iBerkshires has been posting stories and notices about the region. Eleven years isn't much compared to our closest print competitors, both of whom boast lineage back more than a century. But in the case of Internet news startups, we're practically old fogies!
It was at midnight on April 11, 2000, that the very first article (really a press release) was posted on iBerkshires.com. It was actually story No. 2 — no one quite remembers what happened that day but it's believed No. 1 was a test to make sure the system worked.
We had founder and publisher Ozzie Alvarez blow out the candles. The cake was chocolate fudge and raspberry (you know you want to know).
The stories and postings that first week are, well, weird. There's a couple numbers missing and some jumping from April 11 to April 5 and back again. We're going with the 11th — that's the first on the website so we're sticking with it.
The biggest story back then was No. 5, what appears to be a press release announcing our predecessor company Publications Resource Group Inc. moving into the old Roberts Co. with visions of a 100 employees. Well, that was when we were the "Little Silicon Valley," before terror attacks and recessions.
Still, Internet companies haven't done too badly in North Adams over the years and neither has iBerkshires. We've had plenty of changes, starting out as mostly a posting site for press releases (thank you, Williams College!) and community notices. Then we were the online version of The Advocate for a couple years after our parent company, Boxcar Media, moved into 106 Main St.
We parted company with print in 2005 and never looked back. Over the past four years, we've worked hard to become a source for local news by covering meetings, events and elections in North County and Pittsfield. We've been working our way into South County, too.
iBerkshires has grown from a writer and a news clerk to a staff of six or seven full- and part-timers, three of whom are staff writers. We also have some great freelancers and are pumping up our sports coverage by dedicating full pages to seven North County teams this year.
We have a few sister sites, including BerkshireJobs.com, BerkshireNonProfits.com and BerkshireSkiing.com.
As I write this, iBerkshires has posted story 38,274; that's not counting the hundreds of blog posts and thousands of photographs. We have nearly 10,000 obituaries dating to 2000 on our site, too.
There's so much news, we've begun sending out a weekly iBeat to keep readers caught up. We've also added Facebook, where we try to keep things fun, and Twitter. We'd like to find more ways to engage the community in helping us report the news and keeping neighbors informed. In fact, we've got another project coming up to "drill down," as they say, for even more hyperlocal content.
So stay tuned, and don't forget to let us know how we can be better for you.
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Santa's Flight Check
Some 1,200 volunteers answers phone calls and e-mails about Santa at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., during December.
OK, this isn't exactly local, but who doesn't want to know when Santa's arriving? At least to watch out for those speeding reindeer!
We received this missive from North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., informing us that they were on the job — to track Santa's flight path and warn off 747s. Some may say it's a trivial waste of taxpayer money, but it must be nice for them to worry about jolly overweight elves rather than ICBMs for a change. (And it's a great cover for sweeping for UFOs and North Koreans.) But almost all of this is done by volunteers and cheers to them.
Besides, we love the idea that NORAD, created to protect us from nuclear war and communist devastation, has a sense of whimsy. They've been doing this for 55 years; why stop now? (We remember being glued to a black & white RCA as a renowned newsanchor posted the latest update on Santa's flight.)
We do have one quibble. According to the video below, Santa totally blew off New England last year! He went straight from St. Louis to London. What's up with that?
Now you can track Santa along Google Earth by Twitter and Facebook, and there's a whole website (in seven different languages) with games and information. We plan on getting in on the fun, too, by adding @noradsanta to our news Mashup on the home page.
Also, beginning at midnight, Mountain Standard Time, on Dec. 24, visitors to the website can watch Santa as he prepares his sleigh, checks his list, and goes through all of his preparations to ensure he has a successful journey.
As soon as Santa takes off from the North Pole, children can also track him with up-to-the-minute updates on Google Maps and Google Earth through the website. You can phone and e-mail for updates from trackers beginning at 2 a.m. MST (4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) on Dec. 24 until 3 a.m. MST (5 a.m. EST) Dec. 25. Children of all ages can then call the NTS toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's some program background from NORAD:
The NORAD Tracks Santa program began in 1955 after a phone call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The call was from a local youngster who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a local newspaper advertisement. The commander on duty who answered the phone that night gave the youngster the information requested — the whereabouts of Santa. This began the tradition of tracking Santa, a tradition that was carried on by NORAD when it was formed in 1958.
The NORAD Tracks Santa program has grown immensely since first presented on the Internet in 1998. The website receives millions of unique visitors from hundreds of countries and territories around the world. In addition, a live Operations Center is occupied for 25 hours with more than 1,200 volunteers each year who receive hundreds of thousands of phone calls and e-mails from families around the world.
The NORAD Tracks Santa program could not be carried out with the superb assistance of numerous corporate sponsors. New to this year’s program are Air Canada, Marine Toys for Tots, the Federal Aviation Administration, Colorado Springs School District 11, the Newseum, and Unified TelData. Our returning sponsors include Google, Booz Allen Hamilton, Verizon, GlobeLink Foreign Language Center, Meshbox, Naturally Santa Inc, Time Warner, Analytical Graphics, Inc., PCI Broadband Inc., OnStar, Avaya Government Solutions, 5 Star Bank, First Choice Awards and Gifts and Santa's Traveling Workshop Foundation.
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Topix, No More?
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.
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A Lot of Things to Think About
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