Anti-Vikings column gets caught behind Star Tribune paywall

For the record, I’m not opposed to the Strib’s Access Vikings paywall. There are certainly grounds for skepticism about its financial benefits, but open access hasn’t been so great in that regard, so it’s a time to try new things.

Wednesday, though, the first real wrinkle showed up — one that Norwegianity’s Mark Gisleson caught first.

Columnist Rachel Blount took a whack at Zygi Wilf’s stadium plans, noting the owner’s wink-and-nod duplicity about moving the team, despite a 2005 declaration there was “no way” he would.

Maybe you find Blount’s take naïve — though given her experience covering North Stars absconder Norm Green, who played out the string all the way to Dallas, probably not. Still, her piece is one of the first staff broadsides against Zygi’s proposed pleasure palace. (The Opinion section’s Nick Coleman is now a freelancer.)

However, only those who paid Access Vikings’ $5.95/$19.95 fee could check out Blount’s piece online. There’s no false advertising here: The Strib gave everyone ample warning the paywall was coming, and that sports columnists writing about the Purple would be behind it.

But fundamentally, Access Vikings was sold as a way to charge sports junkies more for gridiron goings-on — reporter chats, ex-player blogs, photo galleries, etc. In other words, Favre fascination, AP preoccupation, Chili check-ins and cheerleader cheesecake.

On the other hand, Blount’s is an issues piece — one that, given the budding shakedown over a billion-dollar frill facing a cash-strapped state, deserves a wider audience.

Sure, someday, everything at StarTribune.com may be behind a paywall. And the site already delays certain Sunday news features, though they show up for free a few days later. There’s certainly no law that says they need to make their stuff easily accessible.

But the Strib does stands to benefit hugely if the Vikings decide to buy their land for a new stadium. Even though I don’t think that dynamic affects how stories are covered, it’s another reason the paper should bend over backward to make critical views accessible.

Another reason: Right now, news columns aren’t paywalled or delayed. The Strib should treat all policy columns the same, no matter what section they’re in — even if they mention the V-word.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Mike Ring on 10/14/2009 - 10:10 am.

    As a print subscriber, I’m frustrated that I can’t read content that I’ve already paid for if I don’t happen to be sitting at home with the physical copy of my newspaper. (if, as often happens, I leave for work before my newspaper gets there)

  2. Submitted by Jens Krogstad on 10/14/2009 - 10:27 am.

    Interesting note: I don’t subscribe to Access Vikings, but was able to read the story online yesterday. I wasn’t the only one – it was the top-read story online for awhile late last night. Seems to kinda defeat the purpose of a paywall, doesn’t it?

  3. Submitted by William Souder on 10/14/2009 - 10:35 am.

    You are aware, I’m sure, that your complaint about having to pay to read something online appears alongside an ad asking me to contribute to your blog.

  4. Submitted by Paul Posel on 10/14/2009 - 10:52 am.

    I agree with Mike Ring. I read my home-delivered edition at 6 a.m. this morning and went to the Star Tribune website to comment on the column, which, of course, I could not. That seems odd since I have been a paid print subscriber for more than 40 years (both Star and Tribune for part of that time). Blocking paid subscribers from the website for any content doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    For what it’s worth – I agree 100 percent with the column – she was right on target.

    By the way, David, did you see that Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just retired at age 91. You-know-who turns 90 next March, and isn’t it about time for the now oldest sports columnist in America to fade into the sunset. One can only hope.

  5. Submitted by John O'Sullivan on 10/14/2009 - 10:54 am.

    To be fair, Access Vikings Premium (AVP) is not the only place her column is appearing, it also appears on the front page of today’s sports section, so it is essentially available to paying customers – whether they be print subscribers, eEdition subscribers or AVP users.

  6. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/14/2009 - 11:06 am.

    Bill – too clever by half; the Braublog donation button isn’t a paywall; it’s voluntary, as you know. And as the column notes, there’s nothing inherently wrote with a media outlet charging. It’s just odd that they don’t charge for Jon Tevlin’s or Nick Coleman’s column but do for Rachel’s solely because it mentions the Vikes.

    John – point taken. My only point is that, given the Strib still gives away policy columns, they should with Rachel’s as well.

    Paul – I think this will be a growing problem for the Strib. I pay $230 a year for my print subscription. I want access to everything online that’s in print. Charging more for additional web content is fine, but subscribers already paying hundreds of dollars a year may get a bit sore over being asked to pay more. Either that, or they’ll migrate to lower-priced Strib options, which ain’t optimal either.

  7. Submitted by Dan Jurgens on 10/14/2009 - 11:26 am.

    Interesting business concept.

    1) Those like me, who currently subscribe to the print edition, can’t access the article without an additional subscription.

    2) The Minnesota Vikings are secure in both copyright and trademark.

    3) The Strib piggybacks that property by setting something up called “Access Vikings” and charging for it. Meanwhile, the Vikings do not charge the Strib reporters for access to their press conferences, etc.

    4) The Strib is on shaky legal ground here. The Vikings are looking the other way at present, but they could easily step in and stop the present structure. This is not a general news coverage site, but a clear, likely unlicensed attempt to impinge on the team’s rights.

    5) It’s even more interesting since the columnist in question, who rarely writes about any sport not female related, blasts team ownership.

  8. Submitted by Justin Dessonville on 10/14/2009 - 12:28 pm.

    1) Strib seems to be upping how many stories are on the front page that access premium content, as of right now: 5 stories.

    2) They don’t seem to be standardizing which stories are premium: Video on the home page isn’t locked down and any stories within the /sports/vikings/blogs/ sections aren’t locked down either.

  9. Submitted by William Souder on 10/14/2009 - 01:23 pm.

    I was only noting the irony of your plea for support next to the item. But I’m often too clever by half.

    Many magazines offer their paid print subscribers full, free access to online content…while charging non-subscribers for it. I can’t see any reason the Star Tribune shouldn’t do the same

  10. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 10/14/2009 - 04:22 pm.

    I had $170 for the print edition, but that may have been a special price.

    The entire Stib is very likely to be behind a paywall shortly. They are running various models and working out an industry wide standard.

    From what I’ve been able to gather from Journalism Online, the online edition will cost $75 a year and will be included with the paper version subscription. That is only the current estimate based on the model Journalism Online is working with, however:

    http://erikhare.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/digital-paperboy/

    I think this is likely to happen in the next 6 months.

  11. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 10/15/2009 - 08:01 am.

    If you haven’t read it, Rachel’s column is posted and available from this McClatchy (ironic, huh?)news-feed: http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/2578625/
    Blount deserves credit for being brave enough to utter heresy in the Cathedral, whispering treasonous thoughts about the Vikings in the middle of a temple that is hyping the Vikings/Favre/Zygi cult like the second coming of Bud Grant. But here’s the deal: Whether they get it for free or are required to pay a subscription fee, citizens need to hear contrarian views. Even more, they need unflinching examinations of the deals developing around a billion-dollar stadium plan, including (especially) a thorough vetting of the newspaper’s stake in any plan. Anything less is not journalism.

  12. Submitted by Adam Platt on 10/15/2009 - 03:47 pm.

    I agree that the community deserves unflinching examinations of the deals developing around a billion dollar stadium . . . but Blount’s screed was a column I have read 500 times in this town, many times in the ST. I know the stadium opponents always seem to lose, but it’s hard to claim that anti-stadium voices have not been loud and pervasive. We don’t have to hear the same words every month to remember the rationale….

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