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Star Tribune, Pioneer Press editors intrigued by paywalls

Editor & Publisher’s Joe Strupp has a big feature on the newspaper-site paywall movement, and it includes cautiously supportive quotes from Strib editor Nancy Barnes and PiPress editor Thom Fladung.
By David Brauer

Editor & Publisher’s Joe Strupp has a big feature on the newspaper-site paywall movement, and it includes cautiously supportive quotes from Strib editor Nancy Barnes and PiPress editor Thom Fladung:

In another state capital, St. Paul, Minn., Editor Thom Fladung of the Pioneer Press says there’s so much competing statehouse coverage in his region that any related paid Web content would have to include an exclusive element or in-depth reporting to stand out: “Politics is very big here, that is something I would try. But there is the exclusivity.” He cites online community discussions or interactive features as other pay candidates, but adds that local news can be the best content to sell: “Newspapers, even in our diminished state, are the only ones with a lot of reporters in a lot of places.”

Fladung believes that a pay-one-price plan is probably not workable, given the different online offerings and readers’ varying Web habits. “The model I’ve seen that most intrigues me is when it is tiered,” he explains. “You pay the more you use it, and [print] subscribers get it for free.”

Across the Mississippi River at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Editor Nancy Barnes excludes breaking news from the paid discussion. “There are too many sources for it,” she says, adding that such stories “need to be free.” She cites several exclusive types of stories that could be posted on a pay-only basis, from interviews to investigative series — “content that doesn’t make it to the Web sites of competitors,” she adds. “We’d want to reward the people who would be paying.”

The Strib already withholds some Sunday features, but that’s only to make print seem more worth paying for. I don’t hear too much gnashing of teeth, except among print payers who would like instant web access too.

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Of course, the Strib is on the verge of charging for some Access Vikings content, and a broader paywall seems likely. It could be a failure of imagination, but I’m just not sure I see much income there, or via metering at the PiPress’ Twincities.com.