MediaNews Group experiments with digital pay walls -- but not yet in Colorado

In an interview earlier this year, MediaNews Group executive chairman Dean Singleton talked about experimenting with pay walls at his various newspaper properties. These efforts are now about to get a public try-out at 23 MNG properties -- although none in the company's home state of Colorado. Why not? Vice President of Field Operations Sara Glines explains.

"At the time this strategy came out," Glines says, "we were doing the acquisition of Lehman Newspapers," whose main properties include the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald, and the Cañon City Record. "The way we function, a lot of the same people would have been dealing with this and the consolidation. It would have been a complicating factor."

As a result, the nearly two-dozen newspapers impacted are scattered throughout five states: neighboring New Mexico, plus California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont. See the full list in the press release below. Moreover, they're all community newspapers, as opposed to some of MediaNews Group's larger operations, like the Denver Post. And that was by design.

"These are areas where there is a strong appreciation in the local community for the journalism that is done there," Glines maintains. "They seem to appreciate the value of that -- and you are not in such strong competitive situations in most of those markets."

This last observation is a key, no doubt. Residents of New Mexico towns such as Deming and Alamogordo don't have as many options as do folks to larger cities. So, presumably, they'll be more likely to pay for unfettered access to local news -- $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year for print subscribers, $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year for digital-only. Those who don't pony up will still have access to the home page, announcements, obituaries and classifieds, as well as five pages of editorial content per month, after which they'll be asked to subscribe.

This past January, at the time he stepped down as MediaNews Group's CEO, Singleton admitted that "there's no certainty pay walls are going to work." However, he continued, "the best reason to have a pay wall is that it sends a message to consumers that all information is not free. And I think having sent the message for fifteen years that it is, we need to send a different message -- that all information isn't free."

Nonetheless, Glines warns against assuming that all MediaNews properties -- including those in Colorado, big and small -- will soon have similar pay walls. "We don't know at this point whether this strategy works well for metro newspapers," she notes. "And we're not looking at all beyond this particular initiative. Time will tell, but at this point, we want to get the strategy in place and work with these communities to make sure we feel comfortable with how it's being implemented and how the community responds. We see this as a finite deal at the moment."

Look below to read the complete MediaNews Group release:

MediaNews Group Digital Initiative Release
More from our Media archives: "Highlights from the goodbye-to-the-Rocky Mountain News press conference."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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