TV Sites Are King In Greensboro Market
Greensboro is one of those rare places where the local newspaper site doesn’t lead; in fact, the News & Record’s news-record.com trails all three TV news sites in this media market of 1.8 million, according to comScore.
There are various explanations: Aging servers that lead to more outages, unsophisticated apps, a cluttered appearance, and a market sprinkled with other towns with their own newspapers.
Site improvements just rolled out or being planned at the News & Record may change things. The paper in February launched a suite of new, more sophisticated apps. A redesign, complete with a content management system and new servers, is on the way late this year, according to Chris Brewer, director of digital media at the Landmark Communications Inc.-owned newspaper.
Another, more controversial, shift that is related to content is also unfolding. Whether it could help or hurt the site depends on one’s perspective.
Meanwhile, the local TV sites are undergoing improvements of their own.
About $579.5 million in local advertising is at stake in the market, with almost $82 million of that coming from online dollars, according to media consulting firm Borrell Associates. The total is expected to rise to $763.6 by 2016, Borrell reported, with the online portion almost doubling, to $162.9 million.
As for traffic, comScore shows Fox affiliate WGHP-TV’s myfox8.com jockeying for first place with Hearst Television Inc.’s NBC affiliate site, wxii12.com. The unfortunately-named site for Gannett Co.-owned CBS affiliate WFMY-TV, digtriad.com, usually beats the newspaper site to claim third place, according to comScore.
To Ed Cone, a local journalist and the blogger behind edcone.com, the paper is getting its just desserts. “They gutted their website,” he said, criticizing news-record.com’s new content strategy. “Why would anybody go to their website?”
News-record.com itself remains free, and there are no plans to start charging, Brewer said. But that doesn’t mean all the paper’s content is free.
News & Record rolled out e-edition in early 2010. The e-edition was free at first, but, starting last August, users needed to be print subscribers or pay 50-cents per day, $5 per month or $50 per year for access, said Regina Howard-Glaspie, the paper’s circulation director.
Some of the paper’s more weighty content had already begun migrating to e-edition-only status (going into “a Google-proof vault,” in Cone’s words). But the movement intensified after the e-edition became a paid product, said John Robinson, who left his post as News & Record editor in December.
Now, Robinson estimated that 65% to 70% of the newspaper’s content doesn’t make it onto the free site during weekdays. Free site users don’t see such things as lengthy city council meeting stories, some special projects, or the paper’s columnists, he said.
Instead, Robinson said, they are fed stories about crime, traffic crashes and quirky news — “because,” he said the thinking went, “they would get readership.”
Robinson said he did not agree with this strategy. “I thought it was a terrible idea … Restricting stories from the newspaper and making people pay for them just kind of ran against my grain.
“If I thought there was a story the people of Greensboro should know about, I would want it circulated as widely as possible,” he said.
But, Howard-Glaspie said, the more ponderous news stories didn’t attract many clicks anyway (something Robinson agreed was true). The lure of free sites “quite frankly seems to be for other reasons,” she said.
“People are more interested in local crime and safety issues,” Brewer said. “We want it [the free site] to mirror what people find of interest.”
Then, he added, “You want to give subscribers more of a benefit … The [newspaper’s] content isn’t produced for free.”
More divergence between what is on the site versus in the newspaper is likely to come, Brewer said.
So, in Greensboro, the question may not come down to paywall versus free, but to free-lite versus subscription-substantive.
Right now, the paper’s e-edition attracts only 1,200 monthly unique visitors, who click through about 87,000 monthly page views, Brewer said.
But, along with all the improvements for the free site, the News & Record plans to work with its vendor, Olive Software, to develop an iPad app for its e-edition, along with an HTML5 version that will work on other tablets, Brewer said. This should be completed in the second quarter of this year, he said.
For the makeover at the free site, News & Record turned to Digital Technology International to get a new content management system, or CMS, which Brewer said will be a clear upgrade from the currently used Drupal open source CMS modified in-house.
Using the new technology, editors will be able to easily publish across platforms onto print, Web or mobile, he said.