Stltoday.com now charging a monthly fee - what next?

 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch online version stltoday.com is now charging $9.99 a month to access their content online.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.53.08 AM.png

I'm sure there are ways around this blocker and ways to use another's account to get the info you seek. But that's not the point. The point is, we now have to consider whether the St. Louis Post-Disptach (PD) is worth becoming part of your monthly monetary burden.

We are weighing the options now.

Is this the beginning of the end where readership plummets to new lows, or is this the necessary move for a bright new future for the PD where local content is improved and expanded?

Supporting local media seems like a responsibility we have as citizens. In order to be informed, you have to read about local events and developments. Any community needs a historic record of journalistic reporting from the free press. The PD was founded in 1878 and is still the 26th largest newspaper in the country.

But they have no altruistic mission, they are a for-profit company owned by Lee Enterprises, a company headquartered in Davenport, IA. They are here to make money.

It feels like the subscription-only choice is a historic moment for the PD, moving from sole advertising revenue streams to a mixture of both advertising and monthly access fees.

The landscape of where news comes from and how people access it has evolved so quickly, it's hard to determine what is essential reading and what is worth the ever increasing monthly fees for phone, data, news, cable TV sports, movies, music, philanthropy, etc.

It's tough for a traditional newspaper to evolve to meet the needs of the rapidly changing economics around the press, I witnessed the end of the newspaper. It's all from small screens and the podcasts these days. 

But I'm no cold hearted bastard, I miss the paper and it's place in history.

As a Generation X person, I have great memories of walking outside to fetch the Belleville News Democrat off the driveway and reading coverage of Cardinal baseball. Comics, crossword puzzles and word scrambles were part of the daily routine as a kid as well.  Many of my Baby Boomer relatives still get that paper delivered to their homes daily, and they don't even live in Belleville anymore. It is an important institution to them. They will never give it up.

We gave it up years ago and never missed it. Sad, but true. Times change and the smart phone in your pocket is way more convenient, accessible and less wasteful than print. But, I get the nostalgia and historical importance of the printed press, I just know I don't need it and trust me, my kids' generation doesn't either. 

Remember those free papers, the Suburban Journals that got wet in the rain and clogged the sewers? I celebrated the fact that the subscription became optional back in 2008. We chose not to pay the $19.99 annual subscription and have to admit we don't miss it. We filled our heads with other media and reporting.

So where does a former newspaper publisher belong now in an online world?

Here are the questions we'll be mulling over:

1. What do they offer that you can't get elsewhere for free?

2. Is there must read content on a routine basis?

3. We don't read the PD for national or international news, so does the PD have enough high-level, accurate and in-depth reporting on local and state issues?

In my opinion after reading the PD for over 20 years, the accuracy that one expects from paid journalists, on a local level, is not always there.  They still haven't figured out that Creve Coeur is not a neighborhood of St. Louis. St. Louis is a city...Creve Coeur is a city, only one of them should be accurately reported as St. Louis. Fact. Get a map, check it, it's a fact. No one can dispute this fact.

I'm no journalist, but I question whether it is ethical to call two distinct cities the same name. The tibia is not the fibula, right? Nah, to the PD it's good enough to say leg bones. 

These things matter to our region. Part of why this area is so broken is due to the 88 or so cities in the County that all think they are "St. Louis" but yet set up systems to tax, educate children, police, govern, distribute wealth and compete for business and jobs 100% aside from St. Louis is reality. Until that is fixed and we understand that Clayton is not St. Louis, and vice versa, we can't have honest discussions on merging and consolidating and making equitable decisions for the region as a whole. The PD is a party to this local identity crisis and lack of fact checking.

A journalist will probably tell you every word matters and you should cut out irrelevant type from an article if it's not adding to the story. But I think it does matter to local readers. I think it is only fair to call out a business or residence by it's proper location and city. 

Is this kind of white washing of local facts worth paying for? These are the questions we're asking ourselves after a couple weeks without PD content in our lives. But this is not a new topic.

Over the years, I've drafted several versions of blogs criticizing the PD for it's complicity in the St. Louis identity crisis. I kept a running tab of stories with misleading headlines, addresses and mis-information from the PD. After much contemplation, I never published them, because it would have made me feel like a jerk or a grumpy St. Louis wonk. Further, I want local journalism to succeed and accurately report on St. Louis as a city and a region. I want the PD to thrive as an accurate local media source. They still feel like an entity that we use to help define our identity, just like the Cards and Blues.

But, the PD does not prioritize regional accuracy which is endlessly frustrating. When I click on a story with St. Louis in the headline and the story isn't actually about St. Louis, I quickly become frustrated and look to the author/publisher as the one responsible for wasting my time and misrepresenting the facts. The PD does this often. It is misleading. In an age of click bait, they need to do better. They are not the only ones, this is a regional media problem.

So is it worth $120 a year? If you just go with your gut, the answer is a quick yes. You should support the PD lest it go the way of the Globe Democrat and the many other for-profit companies that once reported on St. Louis. And if they are no longer profitable in the eye's of their parent company, they could dissolve it.

And who doesn't respect the institution of journalism and the place it has in a free society. The era of labeling reporting as "fake news" if it doesn't align with your world-view or political agenda is one of the scariest things I've witnessed lately; but, so is lazy fact checking by credible journalistic sources that erode credibility of good reporters and news sources.

Further, journalism is a respected career. If my kids said they wanted to go into journalism, I would be a proud papa. These are important jobs; I respect the way their minds work and their ability to get down to the facts and report it succinctly and accurately. I hold esteem for a photo-journalist at a much higher level then the countless hacks with a cell phone and a bunch of reality distorting filters and editing tricks posting thousands of photos online.

I have recently read accounts from journalists laying into people complaining about the fee. You can sense the defensiveness and frustration. Good product doesn't come on the cheap or for free, they argue. Every business needs to make money.

I get it. And, I respect defense of your profession when you believe in it.

Trust me, as a scientist it can be insanely frustrating defending data and the scientific process to people who don't want to hear it and want a simple, single sentence answer to complicated questions. Or, when the data doesn't match their ideology, political affiliation or limited understanding of science then you get out right denial of a process an entire community of trained, intelligent people stand by and defend with hard data and a controlled process to generate that data.

Having a president in office who slams the press when it reports fact-checked information that doesn't benefit his agenda is a scary place to be in a free society. 

Makes me want to say "more journalists, more facts, more stories, more real data, more flashlights shown on the dark rooms I have no access to". 

And, I'm willing to set aside my need for local geographical accuracy and still read the content of the Post-Dispatch. But, is the stltoday.com content worth the money?

And, why are they asking now? Is there a grand plan that will use the new revenue source to increase the number of paid local journalists and stories? Should we view this as an investment? Will it get better? Will they have maps that tell them when they are reporting on St. Louis or another city in the region?

Are monthly charges the future for access to all Internet content? Will we have to pay monthly fees for BBC, NPR, CNN, Fox, etc? Are advertising dollars drying up?

TV, radio and internet media survive on advertising, why can't the local online paper?

So you have to ask yourself, who are the PD writers that really resonate with you? Who can you not live without? Who is writing consistent, professional journalistic takes on the issues and news you want to read about? Are the talented photo-journalists enough to hook you on a routine basis? 

Now is the time to be critical of the local news sources as there's now a choice.

Is the PD consistently offering essential reading/entertainment? Are you turned off by egregious ambulance chasing, caustic/unproductive comments sections and lazy reporting/inaccurate treatment of local municipalities?

Now's your chance to not just complain amongst friends, but to put your money where your mouth is.

Now is the time to be critical. Now is the time to give it the thought it deserves. Now is the time to know whether you are going to pony up for the Post-Dispatch or decide if you are willing to try staying informed with local reporting from KWMU, St. Louis American, Evening Whirl, NextSTL, etc.

Looks like we've entered the phase of "can we live without it". Let's see how long it lasts.