How News Limited is reaching out to the bloggers in the paywall debate

The great thing about doing Mumbrella is that when I want to be a journalist, I’m a journalist. And when I want to be a blogger, I’m a blogger.

Last night I was at News Limited’s blogger  briefing on its plans for The Australian’s paywall.  

Of course, much of the information was put in the public domain by The Australian’s CEO Richard Freudenstein at Mumbrella360 back in June.

But to recap, it’s a “freemium” model – enough free content to hang on to advertising revenue; with the more exclusive, analytical and opinion stuff likely to be behind the wall. There’ll be flexibility on how much locked content there will be based, in part, on how subs are going at the time and how much advertising is booked.

The price point opens at $2.95 a week for a digital-only pass to the site and apps. There are a combination of packages up to $7.95 for a six day print sub along with the digital options.

However, the first five items of content accessed via Google will be free each day, while (probably) just the first item via Facebook will be.

Almost the only detail not yet in the public domain is the launch date, although it did emerge that it will begin later this month, which narrows it down somewhat. More on that in the next few days, including a video interview with The Australian’s editor Clive Mathieson once the date is revealed.

But although some mainstream media briefings had already taken place, the approach of talking to bloggers – many of them critics of old school media – ahead of the launch is still something of a new one. I can’t think of another big media owner which has done similar.

Last night saw Freudenstein and Mathieson joined by  marketing director Ed Smith and online editor Nic Hopkins. Also on the News Ltd team was their flack Stephen Browning and Edelman PR director of brand and digital marketing Matthew Gain.

It felt a long way from what has sometimes felt like the Murdochian stance of railing at new media for diverting the rivers of classified advertising gold. It was kinda, well, cosy.

So what do the bloggers make of it?

Among the first out the the blocks is Ross Dawson, who tells his readers is a lengthy piece:

“Overall, it was very refreshing to hear the News Limited executives be open about the challenges they have faced in shifting online from the well-established medium of newsprint. I have previously called the shift to paywalls ‘The Grand Experiment’, and that is exactly how News is approaching their paywall.”

Gavin Heaton, meanwhile, offers a summary on the tweets from the night, which were on the #newsdigsub hashtag.

At the time of writing, most of those present – including Laurel Papworth, Gary Hayes, Tiphereth Gloria, Katie Chatfield, Craig Wilson, Bronwen Clune and Karalee Evans – have yet to post to their blogs on the subject, although I’m sure they will.

I’m also sure that some will have their criticisms – there were sceptical questions on the night.

But on the whole, it felt like the group was mostly won over. I think (and of course, we shall see) that most present were at least persuaded that the plan, even if it doesn’t work, has been thought through and the risk minimised. Few will have left thinking “these guys don’t get it”, which is often the somewhat unproductive dialogue that occurs when new media critiques traditional media.

Certainly News appears to want to drive the conversation. Come the date announcement, they’ll be launching a site at futureofjournalism.com.au to continue that.

They may be right, or they may be wrong. But they’re not running from the debate.

Tim Burrowes




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