Looking forward to the future of journalism

Why you can’t read my news story online, and why that could be a good thing

police chase front pageI wrote a story about the dangers of police chases that was published in Sunday’s paper. If you’re a subsciber to the San Antonio Express-News or bought Sunday’s edition, you could read my story. But you can’t read it online — it’s been embargoed for a few days.

I like the Internet. But I like newspapers, too. So I like this new experiment of putting an Internet embargo on a big Sunday story to encourage people to buy the newspaper. It’s actually one of the few innovative ideas generated from our higher-ups. Usually, the only change we hear about in the newsroom is an announcement every once in awhile that there’s going to be some lay offs or a whittling down of the paper, which in turn hurts our quality and gives readers fewer reasons to bother reading our stories.

But I actually like this idea of embargoed stories. It’s about time we give subscribers a reward for sticking with the paper. We’re jacking up rates yet giving away our content online for free, so we really need to give loyal readers a carrot instead of a stick. And it’s not quite the same thing as a pay wall — my entire story about police chases will be posted online in a few days. We’re just saying: If you pay for the paper, you get first dibs.

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It’d be nice if we take this experiment to the next level: Give subscribers exclusive online content. When my Sunday story is posted online, it will feature a video of a chase taken from a police helicopter; a map of pursuits in San Antonio; a copy of a pursuit-evaluation report for a chase that killed an innocent bystander; and a link to the raw data we analyzed for the story.

The whole story was based on these primary resources. So if we’re really going to embrace this embargo concept, it’d be cool if we allowed subscribers to go online and check this exclusive content for themselves, before it’s released to the general public.

Maybe non-subscribers would consider signing up for this type of deal and subscribe. Or, for those who don’t want to receive the dead-tree version of the newspaper, we could allow them to pay a reduced price to sign up for online access to the exclusive stories that are published every Sunday.

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Like I said, I like the Internet. But I also want to figure out a way to share online content, and reward our loyal subscribers who stick with the newspaper. Maybe this is a good compromise.