Digital Challenges Rise After Daily's Paywall
As media watchers in Louisville, Ky., can tell you, not all of the interesting defections are happening in China these days.
Barely a week after the city’s daily paper, The Courier-Journal, erected its paywall in June, its wildly popular sports columnists, Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford, leapt over it and into the welcome embrace of WDRB, a Block Communications Inc.-owned Fox affiliate. The move effectively eviscerated the daily’s sports department — if temporarily — in this college sports-mad city where pigskin and hoops are rivaled in local hearts only by a little horse race-cum-bacchanal called the Kentucky Derby.
Competition is fierce in Louisville’s digital media scene, where the Courier-Journal still reigns according to data from comScore, but where local television affiliate sites see blood in the water now that its paywall has gone up. WDRB’s sports coup is only the latest and perhaps most brazen in a series of moves against the daily’s dominance, where the news combatants include not only television sites but the local alt-weekly and a new Internet pureplay site that, one editor said, is “giving all of the news outlets in town a run for their money.”
Indicators are good for digital growth: Louisville has an average household income of $45,437 and 73% broadband penetration according to data from media analysts Borrell Associates, and both unemployment and real estate have seen an uptick, said Carol Brandon Timmons, editor of Business First of Louisville. “The economic climate is improving,” she said. “I would call it slow but steady.”
That growth is anchored by UPS, she said, whose air hub is in the city, along with a number of related logistics and distribution companies that have sprung up around it. National restaurant chains including Papa John’s and Texas Roadhouse are also headquartered there, and there has been significant growth in the health care sector, particularly among companies that cater to senior living.
The Courier-Journal is doing some catering to older readers itself. When parent company Gannett Co. asked the paper to identify two so-called “passion topics” among locals, John Mura, its multimedia manager, said the choice was easy — standard of living and health, with an emphasis on aging. “We are putting a lot more resources into both of those,” Mura said, noting that the paper has sprung two vertical sites on those subjects and is looking to partner with area entities including hospitals, universities and some of the larger local industries to build up substantive online resources for its readers.
And since its metered pay system launched on June 1, the Courier-Journal needs to reaffirm its value with readers more than ever. With the meter set at 25 stories per month, print subscribers still get full digital access (though they saw a $5 bump in their monthly bill), while digital-only subscribers can get full access to the paper’s Web and app content for $13 a month.
Mura said the Courier-Journal aims to give users their money’s worth. One early move: a new “digital SWAT team” of four reporters has been assigned to bulk up breaking news and multimedia digital enterprise reporting including on normally digitally-slow weekends.
There’s also a big push on video, Mura said, noting that all of the paper’s reporters and photographers were recently issued iPhone 4Ss and trained to edit and upload video right in the phone. While the Courier-Journal currently runs between four to five videos a day, Mura said that number is only going to rise.
The Courier-Journal has been equally busy on social media, employing a dedicated editor to its Facebook and Twitter efforts, and has been aggressive with its live streaming of events from everything to breaking news and sports, including the otherwise uncovered after-game coaches’ press conferences for the diehards.
Louisville’s second-ranked site, the Raycom Media Inc.-owned NBC affiliate WAVE3, is swinging back with its own moves, including a push of differentiated digital content according to Joey Brown, its digital content manager. “We post a lot of stories on our website that don’t make it on the air,” he said, noting that some of it comes from Raycom’s deeper, companywide well.
Among that unique content is a seasonal Digital Derby Guide to the madness that overtakes Churchill Downs and most of the city each May, extending far beyond just the race itself. Between the infield insanity leading up to the race (Hunter S. Thompson once memorably described the scene as “thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles”), the hats, the visiting celebrities and the festival spilling over to the shores of the Ohio River, Brown said there’s never any shortage of colorful content.