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Print Subscribers Cry Foul Over WP's Online-Only Story 96

Posted by timothy
from the wonder-how-they-feel-about-online-coupons dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The decision by the Washington Post to publish an article exclusively online has angered many readers who still pay for the print edition of the newspaper and highlighted the thorny issues newspaper editors still face in serving both print and online audiences. The 7,000 word story about the slaying in 2006 of Robert Wone, a young lawyer who was found stabbed to death in a luxurious townhouse in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington where a 'polyamorous family' of three men lived, is the sort of long-form reporting that newspaper editors say still justifies print in the digital age and many editors agree that print is still the place to publish deep investigative reporting, in part to give certain readers a reason to keep paying for news. 'If you're doing long form, you should do it in print,' said newspaper consultant Mark Potts. 'This just felt like a nice two-part series that they didn't have the room to put in the paper, so they just threw it on the Web.' Editors at The Post say they considered publishing the article in print, but they concluded it was too long at a time when the paper, like most others, was in dire financial straits and trying to scale back newsprint costs. 'Newspapers are going broke in part because news can be read, free of charge, on the Internet,' wrote one reader in a letter to the editor. 'As a nearly lifelong reader of The Post, I could not read this article in the paper I pay for and subscribe to; instead I came on it accidentally while scrolling online for business reasons.'"
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Print Subscribers Cry Foul Over WP's Online-Only Story

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  • Headline: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:41PM (#28429515) Homepage

    Business transitions to more efficient distribution medium; Stragglers complain.

    Film at 11.

    • by unfasten (1335957) on Monday June 22, 2009 @06:43PM (#28430493)

      Film at 11.

      Don't you mean "Streaming digital video at 11"?

      • by Klaruz (734)

        Film at 11.

        Don't you mean "Streaming digital video at 11"?

        Or "Streaming digital video when you have some free time to watch it".

        • Film at 11.

          Don't you mean "Streaming digital video at 11"?

          Or "Streaming digital video when you have some free time to watch it".

          No you mean... buffering... buffering... buffering... buffering...

          Tell me again when we are going to get anywhere near the bandwidth of the rest of the civilized world?

          • by eihab (823648)

            No you mean... buffering... buffering... buffering... buffering...

            Tell me again when we are going to get anywhere near the bandwidth of the rest of the civilized world?

            [Off-Thread warning]

            I think things are improving. I'm in California and I just switched (back) to Comcast. I'm paying $19.99 a month (For 6 months, and then ~$44 a month) for 12-24mbps down and 1-3mbps up.

            I get around 21mbps/1.5mbps during peak hours on speed test websites (means nothing, I know), and on average I get 10mbps down from sites that have the bandwidth.

            The bottle neck for me nowadays seems to be the servers I'm accessing more than anything else.

            Mind you this is in an older neighborhood that I th

        • by Ceiynt (993620)
          I think you have the correct idea with where the current generation is going. Only thing to add is, newspapers print day old news reported first on the net then on TV. I used to subscribe to both the Denver Post and Colorad Springs Gazette, they had different comics. I started to see that the Gazette would reprint the same stories that were in the Post, 1-3 days after they were in the Post. Then I started reading online news. I found the newspaper was printing 1-2 day old news as it was, unless it was super
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sgt_doom (655561)

        Today the MainStreamMedia once more reported that: "Don't worry about unemployment, it's a lagging indicator."

        2010: Don't worry about all those dead CEOs, lying dead in the streets after being brutally slain, that's just a lagging indicator of the economy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fluffeh (1273756)
      While there are two sides to this, those "stragglers" seem to be the ones footing the bills for the web presence - short of the ads that they are selling on their site, which are unlikely to be bringing in enough cash to buy a icypole during lunch.

      Having said that, I doubt there is anywhere in the paper that says that ALL content online will also be in the printed format.
    • by HiThere (15173)

      Calling it a more efficient medium misses the essence of this.

      If you're talking about the National Enquirer, then you might have a point...I'm not sure, I don't read it. For genuine newspapers... No.

      The problem is that newspapers need to return to their roots...and there doesn't seem to be any way to do that. Most newspapers don't HAVE investigative reporters, so they don't have anything special to offer. So they not only are dying, they deserve to die. The ones that do, though, have a problem:

      Those in

    • by AlecC (512609)

      Please get me a monitor with the resolution, contrast ratio, portability and battery life of a magazine. Laptops are uncomfortable to read in bed, cannot be rolled up and shoved in a trouser pocket, and are harder on the eyes then newsprint in good light. When electronic distribution matches these advantages for print, I'll jump at it. But for the moment, for non-interactive, non-urgent, long-form information where you don't want search functions, print still rules. Which is still a large niche.

    • Geeks will naturally jump on the digital vs. paper angle, but actually, this is about a much larger ethical issue: whether exclusives should exist at all. I've always considered exclusives to be unethical, since they're effectively a (relatively bad) form of DRM: you can know about an important issue in your society, but not if you get your information from our competitors. Now, they're taking it one step further: you can read the story, but not if you got the information in a certain format.

    • by hosecoat (877680)
      This just in, there is stuff online that is not in the newspaper. Welcome to the 90s. You should also get upset at the hundreds of articles that were just tossed instead of going in the paper you pay for and subscribe to.
  • Backwards? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alarindris (1253418) on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:42PM (#28429527)
    Why would they put long stories on the web, the sanctuary of the short attention span, and not in print, where people pay to spend a lot of time reading it?
    • by Fluffeh (1273756)
      RTFA: They are trying to lower printing/paper costs by avoiding these longwinded 7000 word page-hog stories that take up the same amount as a handful of other normal stories.
    • by Thaelon (250687)

      Because printing a huge article costs significantly more to create in hard copy form.

      And I got that from TFS, not even TFA.

      But, given that you're talking about short attention spans I wonder if this wasn't perhaps a really well hidden joke...

  • Not new (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:43PM (#28429535) Journal
    The Wall Street Journal has been doing this for a while now. Lots of newspapers put movies on their websites. I admit I was kind of annoyed by it at first too, but after a while you just deal with it, and get your information where you can. There are still benefits of print.
    • Re:Not new (Score:5, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756) on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:53PM (#28429717)

      Lots of newspapers put movies on their websites. I admit I was kind of annoyed by it at first too, but after a while you just deal with it, and get your information where you can.

      Don't put up with it! Demand that they put movies in their newspapers too.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:51PM (#28429673) Journal

    Quoth TFA:

    In one letter that The Post published after its article ran online, a reader wrote: "Newspapers are going broke in part because news can be read, free of charge, on the Internet. As a nearly lifelong reader of The Post, I could not read this article in the paper I pay for and subscribe to; instead I came on it accidentally while scrolling online for business reasons."

    A story about three polyamorous men living together and you found it while surfing the net for "business reasons?" Yeah, right!

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      He was obviously looking for insights on how to market his new product, which is targeted at polyamorous gay men. There slogan is: "New Circle Jerk(TM) Beer! For men who like men -- lot's of them!"
  • by mdf356 (774923) <mdf356NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday June 22, 2009 @05:52PM (#28429691) Homepage

    Even with a subscription you're not paying for the paper. The nominal cost of the subscription or the news stand price covers approximately the cost of the physical paper (roughly; more or less depending on paper size and price). The reporters, staff, printing press, etc., etc., are all paid for by advertising, which is a much larger cost than $1.00 or so per day.

    The only difference with the online version is that no one has managed to get the advertising revenue to match costs yet. And in fact, this is becoming more of a problem with the print version, as the ad revenue falls due to falling circulation.

    But the point is, even folks who "pay for the paper" aren't doing so; it's a specious argument.

    • by winwar (114053)

      "But the point is, even folks who "pay for the paper" aren't doing so; it's a specious argument."

      No it isn't.

      The subscription does pay for the paper, otherwise you wouldn't get a copy. Sure, it only covers a portion of the cost but without delivery and subscriptions most papers cease to exist. What's the point of paying for ads in the paper if nobody sees them?

      The real problem is that newspapers never bothered to tell their readers this. Some still don't. Probably because it would tarnish their "reputat

    • by Zerth (26112)

      True. If newspapers could axe the cost of printing(materials, delivery, presses, facilities, staff, etc), they could probably still pay for their news-generating staff with a fraction of the advertising revenue.

  • To really know what's happening in northern Delaware, you need to haunt the Wilmington News Journal's Web site. They post breaking news all day, including many stories that will never make it into the paper... and the links to those stories vanish when the dead-tree edition hist the driveway.
  • "Businessreasons" :)

    Good one. Mod tagger up.

  • The reader who complained should simply bookmark washingtonpost.com and skim it daily for content that is not provided in the print edition. For example, many of their articles have very active talkback forums or blogs that obviously are not possible in the print edition.

    Really, today's news market is subdivided into many categories--traditional print readers, casual online skimmers, and serious online readers come to mind. Then there are news aggregators such as Yahoo and Google that present a portal for

    • by zevans (101778)

      I read the online WaPo just about every day, plus WSJ, NYT, and a couple of the prominent aggregators. That's about all I need and have time for. I wouldn't have time to read a paper edition, and plus it's full of junk that I wouldn't normally click on. I suspect there are millions of others with needs similar to mine.

      Indeed there are - which is why there is such a thriving market in free daily newspapers on public transport now in the UK. I hope you're not going to suggest flaunting an expensive and highly desirable gadget in peak time on an underground train would be a viable alternative.

  • by demachina (71715) on Monday June 22, 2009 @06:03PM (#28429867)

    ... but last week they fired Daniel Froomkin who was one of the more fearless critics of the power that be. He was pretty merciless to the Bush administration across a range of issues including torture. Then to show he is a class act he was starting to be a pretty merciless critic of the Obama administration too. I think he was having some kind of spat with the Post's resident right wingnut ... Krauthammer but I would be interested if anyone knows the dirt on why exactly he was fired. To fire Froomkin and keep Krauthammer has dramatically diminished my opinion of the Post and I am not reading it at all lately.

    Even prior to firing Froomkin my impression is the quality of their editorials, and original news reporting in general, has been in steep decline lately.

    • by Ironsides (739422)

      Even prior to firing Froomkin my impression is the quality of their editorials, and original news reporting in general, has been in steep decline lately.

      As someone who's lived in the DC area for over 25 years, it's been more than 'lately'. Try at least 15-20 years.

      • by demachina (71715)

        Well since I've never lived anywhere near D.C., which is something I am very happy about, I didn't really start reading it until their online version took off. I did like Froomkin's stuff even though he was often just aggregating snippets from around the web to make his point. I liked Broder and even Ignatius for old school, though I take Ignatius with a heavy dose of salt. At this point there aren't any of their other editorialists I go out of my way to read. It scares me a little but I'm mostly just re

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Culture20 (968837)

      I would be interested if anyone knows the dirt on why exactly he was fired. [snip] he was starting to be a pretty merciless critic of the Obama administration

      You answered yourself. His boss(es) liked the previous eight years' material, and were shocked and dismayed that he was a good journalist instead of the biased one they thought he was. Of course, they might actually think he _became_ biased.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by demachina (71715)

        LOL, well that suspicion certainly had crossed my mind. I sure hope its not the truth because it reaffirms everything the right says about the Post, and about the undeserved honeymoon the "Liberal" media is giving Obama.

        I give Obama some credit for not being a liberal ideologue the right painted him to be, but there are a lot of issues where he really has turned out to be Bush Lite and we needed a lot cleaner break from Cheney Inc. than he's given us. His failure to stop warrantless wire tapping in parti

        • by Culture20 (968837)
          Agreed about the energy. One of the reasons our country became so wealthy during the early 20th century was the amount of energy and resources we could tap compared to other countries (and we weren't in WWI/WWII until others wasted resources). Some Fusion or other energy would give our economy a big kickstart. Just making energy cheap and available would open up new manufacturing and transportation venues.
      • You answered yourself. His readers liked the previous eight years' material, and were shocked and dismayed that he was a good journalist instead of the biased one they thought he was. Of course, they might actually think he _became_ biased.

        FTFY. From the ombudsman blog [washingtonpost.com]:

        Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, whose stable of contributors includes Froomkin, said late Thursday: "With the end of the Bush administration, interest in the blog also diminished. His political orientation was not a factor in our decision."

  • You know what's ironic - I went to read that article and the first thing I looked for was the "Print" view so that I could read it without all the crap around it. So print isn't dead!

  • I would like to know many is "many"???? Are we talking 20 people?

    Did the paper actively seek out people to add to this "many" count by saying polling with misleading questions?

    Sounds like a case of people bitching just to bitch, which people love to do. I pay for XMRadio so I can listen to Foxnews. But NO, I can't stream it through the online XMRadio player, and I have to pay an extra $3/mo to even stream XM on my iPhone. Wahh. Yet Fox News is free to stream through iTunes under radio stations.

  • by sampson7 (536545) on Monday June 22, 2009 @06:13PM (#28430011)
    The article was actually a series of three articles about the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a young man in DC, while he was staying over at the house of three gay friends (who were involved in a three-way relationship) in a wealthy section of DC. The three friends reported being asleep and waking up to find their guest murdered (I'm greatly simplifying.) The police think the three gay men were involved in the murder and have concocted a bizarre (not saying wrong or right -- but it is bizarre) story that the guest was accidently killed in sex game run amok, and that the three .

    Honestly, the story wasn't very good. There was no lede. There were no breaks in the case reported for the first time by the paper. The main thing it had going for it was group sex. The strong implication of the article was that the police thought these three guys were guilty because they were into kinky group sex and S&M. Then when it came time to actually prove something, there was all-too-common in DC story of police labs losing evidence and screwing up.

    I'm sure the Post editors compared this sensationalist story with the Chandry Levy expose they printed maybe a years ago (which I understand actually led to someone being arrested), and found it lacked oomph. There was no there there as an old boss used to say. Combine that with the obvious homophobia of the police detectives initially assigned to the case, and the whole thing was a muddled morass of conflicting information. Clearly the housemates were not entirely forthcoming and that their stories were not entirely consistent, but there was no clear evidence that they committed murder either.
  • A newspaper subscription doesn't entitle you to everything the newspaper company publishes. For example, you don't automatically get the various foreign language editions. Regional editions often contain different material. It seems to me that the only problem here is the subscriber's attitude.

  • "I came on it accidentally"

    Ha, could have chosen better words!

  • No ink costs & no layout worries. As a former reporter, I gotta say, almost all problems I see with the newspaper industry, as with the U.S. auto industry, are of their own making. *shrug*

    • by TheViewFromTheGround (607422) on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:43PM (#28432341) Homepage

      Long form is way better online these days. I'm working in this field, and I'd expand on your reasons greatly:

      • Long form journalism doesn't sell papers -- the sports pages do. As advertising dollars erode, this kind of journalism WILL go to other venues, be it regional or highly local papers or the web.
      • The audience for long-form investigative journalism is almost certainly mainly well educated and mainly online.
      • The physical constraints of the format and the distribution mechanism of newspapers means is outdated: You can create much richer context around a story -- using multimedia, 3rd party resources, etc -- using good old hyperlinks.
      • Layout and design still matters -- you still have to produce online pieces. But it doesn't require a genius to do this -- certainly not the many layers of bureaucracy I hear about from reporters at the Post and the Chicago Tribune in getting their work online.
      • If you want a printable version (perhaps of a culmative project), provide it as a PDF.
      • Online resources are far easier to track, note, and share with tools like Google Reader or Zotero.
      • The Internet is at least as great a venue of influence as printed material these days -- big, big stories have debuted online in recent years. If part of the point of long-form journalism is to influence discourse, policy, and decision-making, then you need to go where you have leverage.
      • That quote -- 'If you're doing long form, you should do it in print' -- is pure, unadulterated dogma, unmoored from any reality. If you're doing long form, you aren't doing it for the dailies or the alternative weeklies anymore, most likely. Some, if not all, of your professional life will be online or bump up against Internet technologies. If you need a printed product, you have options (get your audience to help; print high quality single page magazine-covers-without-the-magazine with story snippets and your URL...), you can do events, but your primary channel of distribution is very likely going to be the Internet.

        People who are whining that a story whose primary audience is probably 99% online didn't make it into a format that is hemhoraging money are out of their damn minds, and probably will soon be out of business, too.

  • I was just reading an article [economist.com] that suggests doing it the other way round is the correct way.
  • Dang.. I didn't know Wikipedia had print subscribers....

    Do they mail in the edits they want to make to articles, or something?

  • by geekoid (135745)

    stamps used to host a nickle!

    Wake up. Print is dead.

    the only reason this is true:
    . 'If you're doing long form, you should do it in print,'
    is to sell more print;however the cost difference is so great it's hardly a long term plan.
    WP is probably making plans to go all online. If they aren't they better be making plans it down size, and then go bankrupt.

    Print is expensive. We will have groups who make money and pay people to report. This won't change; just the method of doing so will.

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