Courier-Journal Publisher Discusses New Online Paywall and Content Strategy

by Gabe Bullard on May 28, 2012

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Courier-Journal publisher Wesley Jackson is in an odd position. He’s essentially the connection between a local institution (the paper) and a giant national corporation (C-J parent company Gannett) during an emotional and dramatic time for both.

With revenue waning and on orders from Gannett, the Courier will soon start charging visitors to its website who read more than a certain number of articles each month (likely 10-20, according to Jackson). Paper subscribers will get unlimited access for free, but anyone who doesn’t get the Courier on their doorstep will have to pay $13 a month to read over the free limit.

“We will see overall traffic on the core website itself, I think, during the initial phase of this, will drop about 10 or 15 percent,” says Jackson. “But based on other Gannett markets that have launched this program – and there are hundreds of newspapers now that are charging for their digital content as well – you see a recovery period that brings that traffic back.”

There will also be changes to content in the paper, with a split focus on watchdog journalism and what Jackson calls Information. Essentially, this content will be lifestyle stories on personal finance (“improving your economic IQ” is the phraseology Jackson uses) and health.

“There are some hard news items around there where we do some investigative journalism. But much of that information is utility-focused. It really helps you with the fundamental questions that you have in your life,” says Jackson.

The new Courier/Gannett strategy is meant to tap into readers’ interests and their digital habits. Apps for iOS and Android devices are forthcoming, says Jackson.

These changes and new offerings come after years of employee furloughs, layoffs and early-retirement buyouts. Once the paywall goes up, the Courier will essentially be asking people to pay for less than they used to get for free.

“We still have more journalists covering local news and information than any other institution in the state of Kentucky,” says Jackson.

He continues:

The overall content that people have access to, in some ways, has grown significantly via the website, despite some of the challenges we’ve had in terms of our overall scale of reporting base. The hard fact for us is that we have to begin to reorganize our business, which had begun before I got here.

With that reorganization, as we start looking at how we transform to share more information than we can in print, to take advantage of those opportunities for our subscribers, and focus our resources on stories, information and content that is local, relevant and high-impact.

The combination of those two items, I think, can still bring a very compelling product to the marketplace for the price we charge for it.

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