Understandably, a few readers were miffed by the Independent Herald’s decision to begin requiring customers be paid subscribers for unlimited access to the newspaper’s online content.
Change is seldom welcomed with open arms, especially when you’re asking someone to pay for something that for years they have gotten for free.
But we felt the move is not only worthwhile, it’s inevitable.
While our online edition has been limited to minimal updates over the past eight years — four or five of the top news stories each week with a few sports stories sprinkled in — we have been offering for free content that our loyal subscribers have been paying for all along.
In the eight years since we first launched ihoneida.com, a growing number of readers have requested additional features — chiefly, the ability to access an electronic version of our print edition.
These changes will make that possible. Our e-edition launched on ihoneida.com two weeks ago, and is available free of charge for non-subscribers through March 1. We’ve also begun pushing updates to the website as news occurs throughout the week, rather than waiting until our print edition rolls off the press each week to make those updates.
This decision was not one we made lightly. There are compelling arguments both for and against “paywalls” for newspaper websites. We discussed it for two years before moving ahead with implementation. During that time frame, the two closest weekly newspapers outside Scott County — the LaFollette Press and the Morgan County News — have begun charging for unlimited online access. Tennessee’s largest daily, The Tennessean, has also begun charging for online access and the Knoxville News Sentinel has announced that it will implement a similar system in the months ahead.
Ultimately, we felt that charging for online access would greatly benefit our subscribers. For years, many loyal and web-savvy subscribers to the Independent Herald have waited patiently for the newspaper to arrive in their mailboxes outside Scott County so they can keep up with what’s happening “back home.”
This change will allow those subscribers to view that news as it occurs, and to view the electronic version of our print edition as soon as it rolls off the press.
The change will also benefit local subscribers by giving them a second option for accessing the news each week. In the 21st Century’s hustle-and-bustle of everyday life, the days of sitting over the newspaper at the dinner table after work and thumbing through the entire edition are essentially over. Readers prefer to be able to access news in a way that is most convenient for them — which means while they’re on break at work, sitting in the dentist’s waiting room or while their kids are at ball practice.
The ultimate goal of any newspaper is to deliver news to the community or communities it serves. If new technology allows us to do that more efficiently, that is a good thing. In this case, we feel that employing the internet to help us distribute coverage of Scott County and its people will benefit our readers, our advertisers and ourselves.
There will doubtlessly be wrinkles to be worked out in the weeks ahead as these changes are fully implemented. Some we can probably predict and others will probably catch us totally off-guard. As we ask for your patience in working through these matters, we also invite you to contact us with any questions or concerns.
■ Ben Garrett is editor of the Independent Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.