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News-Miner to Begin Requiring Electronic Subscriptions for Frequent Online Visitors

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The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner will soon begin charging a fee to frequent visitors to its website. The so-called “paywalls” are a growing trend in the U.S. newspaper industry, used by some as way to recoup revenue lost to online news sites. But many in the newspaper industry disagree over whether paywalls hurt or help online readership.  That disagreement is being played out between the Alaska’s two top news sites.

Paywalls erected by some news outlets in recent years haven’t gone over so well. Especially among younger online readers, many of whom have stopped visiting those websites and gone elsewhere online, citing what’s become a sort of mantra for 21st-century news consumers: “Information wants to be free.

But News-Miner Publisher Marti Buscaglia says it costs money to pay the reporters and editors who work at the heart of a newspaper. And that’s the idea behind the electronic subscriptions that the News-Miner will begin offering later this month.

“There are few trusted sources that are bring you the real news. And those trusted sources have decided that people need to pay for the news,” she said.

Buscaglia says there’s really nothing new about that idea.

“They’ve always paid for the news,” she said. “They’ve always paid for subscriptions – the printed product.”

The publisher of Anchorage-based Alaska Dispatch News sees it differently. Alice Rogoff says she took down the paywall that the Anchorage Daily News had set up after she bought the newspaper last year and combined it with the Dispatch News.

“It’s just not something that we have ever thought made sense,” she said.

Rogoff raised eyebrows in the newspaper industry in April when it bought the Daily News from The McLatchy Company, the third-largest chain in the United States, and rebranded it the Alaska Dispatch News.

Rogoff says she intends to continue printing the paper. But she doesn’t plan to bring back the paywall, because she believes online news readers have already become accustomed to free news over the Internet. And she says it’s a hard sell to start charging for it now.

“In a perfect world,” she said, “if we were to start the world from scratch, it would make sense that the people pay for news content, like they do when pick up a newspaper for a quarter or a dollar or whatever the price is. But it’s not a perfect world. And the way your news product gets seen by the people you want to see it, and read it, is by letting it be out there for free.”

Buscaglia agrees there’s a lot of free news online. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. She says the Internet is awash in false information, and she subscribes to the school of thought that readers will pay for reliable news, especially from a local outlet.

“Everything is vetted, and everything has multiple sources,” she said. “And bringing that kind of news to the general public costs money.”

Rogoff notes that many newspapers have imposed paywalls only to pull them down after suffering declines in online readership. She says the Dispatch News doesn’t need a paywall because the company earns enough through its online advertising.

“As long as there are sponsors and advertisers who are willing to pay to help deliver what they think is a good environment in which to show their advertising,” she said, “then this model is going to continue working just fine in Alaska.” 

Buscaglia came to the News-Miner in May after having worked two years as vice president of advertising for the Anchorage Daily News. She says the News-Miner is in good shape financially, and has solid support from its advertisers and the community.

Buscaglia says the electronic subscriptions are intended to sustain its newsroom’s ability to generate content for both its print and online versions on into the future.

“The News-Miner has been around for more than 103 years. And it needs to be around for a hundred more, in whatever form is available in a hundred years.”    

Buscaglia doesn’t think the News-Miner website will lose many readers over electronic subscriptions. She says the site attracts an average of one million unique visitors and 3.4 million page views monthly. She says the online subscriptions will be required only for those who read more than 30 stories on the site over 30 days. A 30-day subscription will cost $9.99. Discounted prices will be offered for six-month and one-year subscriptions.

Editor's note: This story was revised to correct the number of visitors to the News-Miner website – it gets an average of a million unique visitors and 3.4 million page views monthly.