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Staying traditional in a digital world

Wayne Hill doesn’t have time for the hassle of a Web site. He’s too busy running a newspaper as the owner, publisher, editor, reporter, photographer and gopher for the Afton Star-Enterprise.

“Most everyone I have heard speak of Web sites say that they make a small fraction of their newspaper’s income or sustain a loss, but put in a tremendous amount of time,” said Hill in

Staying traditional in a digital world

Staying traditional in a digital world

an e-mail interview. “I work for one reason – to make money at something I love doing. I will not stress myself any farther for little or no income.”

Though the Iowa-based weekly is small with a circulation of approximately 1,000, Hill claims that circulation has grown in the last three years and that financially, the paper does quite well. The only time community members complain of a lack of a Web site is when they want to buy a picture of their kids that appeared in the paper.

All over the Web, articles and sites can be found that offer advice and services to newspaper publishers wanting to build or revamp a Web site, but there are still newspapers out there that exist and survive without providing online content. As the debate over paywalls versus free content becomes more charged, a number of papers are content to remain in what could be termed the “dark ages” by keeping their content in print and shunning the digital world.

Like Hill, Dan Jacobson, publisher and owner of the New Jersey-based TriCity News, has declined to join the Web revolution. “Why would I put anything on the Web?” said Jacobson in an interview with the New York Times last December. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper.” Almost a year later, the paper still does not publish content online, but hosts a site that contains some general information about the paper.

Philip Meyer, Professor Emeritus at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, called it a “cultural lag.” “Progress always occurs unevenly. The nonadopters are probably in relatively isolated communities without print or Internet competition, and they are doing just fine – for now,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Meanwhile, Journalism Online – a startup whose goal is to help publishers transition to a paid online model – is still making headlines with a reported 1,000 newspaper publishers signed on. And recently, MediaNews Group announced that next year, all the publishing group’s papers will have paywalls erected around content. Similarly, Boston Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell was recently quoted in a Boston Business Journal article saying that he believed most major newspapers would start charging for access over the course of the next year. “I think that we have to move to a subscription model,” Purcell told the Journal. “It’s going to take everybody moving together. The newspaper industry will not survive without an additional revenue stream.”

In an article from Reflections of a Newsosaur, Alan Mutter cites a study conducted by Greg Harmon of Belden Interactive for the American Press Institute. In a sample of 450 people, Harmon found that 53 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay an average of $4.64 a month for online newspaper access, while 47 percent of the group said they would not pay at all. So the debate on whether the online fee model will work or not remains to be seen, but there is one thing for sure: despite this digital world, newspaper owners across the country are holding fast to the traditional idea of a newspaper.

In May 2008, the Palo Alto Daily Post launched with no Web site. Today, the paper provides a site that contains general information but no news content. When recently asked if he had ever considered going online, co-founder James Pavelich was quick to respond: “Don’t write about us,” he said in an e-mail. “Spend your precious time convincing the rest of the industry to stop the mass suicide. Hollywood does not give away their content free online the evening before the premiere. Tell them to shut down their Web sites and hire intellectual property lawyers to protect their content.”

-Katrina M. Mendolera

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