Monday, May 9, 2011 paywall goes up, proves leaky, irritating

It is sometimes a bit too easy to laugh about some of my experiences at Hearst Newspapers, the place I first entered the newspaper business professionally: I recall the effort to create a tabloid newspaper in Los Angeles, all the better to attract subway riders (L.A. had no subway); or the all-color Sunday edition, printed on a brand new press, so beautiful that it scared the heck out of management, forcing them to quickly dump the project lest the company be forced to actually buy new presses to produce the gorgeous paper for real (I was able to snag a copy before they were burned, it really was beautiful).
Now the management at Hearst has installed a paywall at its premier newspaper website, I call it their "premier" not so much because of its design (it is still lacking there) but because it continues to be a top news site based on traffic, consistently in the top ten in traffic among US news sites.

It's not much of a paywall. In fact, one has to stumble onto it by accident, clicking on one of the stories that are actually behind it. For instance, I couldn't find a news story behind the paywall on the site's front news section, but found one in the Sports section. As you can see, if you aren't willing to pay for access to the e-edition you'll have to wait until Wednesday to read this minor little backgrounder about a 49er draft choice.

The rumor hit last month that Hearst was about to construct a paywall for I ignored the story at the time – I guess I've learned my lessons over time in regard to Hearst Newspapers. Here we have a newspaper publishing company headquartered in New York City, and a major newspaper in San Francisco. Put the two together and you would think that Hearst Newspapers would be a leader in New Media. Well, you'd think so.
During my tenure at Hearst, admittedly a while ago now, I found the company to be too NY oriented – it never seemed to understand California and its California properties. At my daily in Los Angeles, we were on the two year plan: every two years a new publisher was brought in from New York. After two years, about the time it took for the new publisher to begin to understand the market, a new one would be brought in again. (Eventually the ad director told me that I would be wise to accept the offer I received from Copley Newspapers. Three years later the paper was closed down by Hearst.)

Now Hearst has instituted a leaky paywall in San Francisco and supposedly has plans to launch a tablet edition for the Chronicle, as well.

Well, we'll see how this all works out. But it seems to me the company would be well served to simply establish a new headquarters for Hearst Newspapers – get out of NYC and move to the West Coast. Do what Facebook did: buy a place in Palo Alto and start fresh. Well, that's my advice anyway.